Fugitive Vegan Restaurant Owners Wanted for Theft, Fraud Caught After Ordering Domino’s
On Wednesday, May 11, police in Tennessee arrested Sarma Melngailis and Anthony Strangis — the owners of the now-defunct Pure Food and Wine, a vegan restaurant, and One Lucky Duck, a vegan juice bar — who were wanted for fraud, after police tracked a Domino’s order to their hotel room in Sevierville, Tennessee.
In January 2015, employees of Pure Food and Wine in Manhattan walked out, protesting the fact that they had not been paid in weeks, and that the owners had trouble meeting payroll several times during the last year. Months later, Melngailis reopened with new investors only to disappear by the summer, owing back wages to at least 84 employees.
By the time the couple went on the run, Melngailis and Strangis had allegedly spent at least $2 million on luxury travel and gambling. The pair visited Las Vegas, Louisiana, and Tennessee before they were arrested this week after placing a call for Domino’s, and now face 24 counts including tax fraud, wage theft, and grand larceny.
According to prosecutors in Brooklyn, the couple is charged with $40,000 in stolen wages, $844,000 in stolen investments, and a debt of more than $400,000 in sales tax.
“These defendants are accused of repeatedly stealing from and lying to their loyal employees and to investors who poured money into their company,” Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said in a statement. “They allegedly gambled away the money or spent it lavishly while leaving everyone else in the lurch. They were finally caught and we intend to now hold them accountable for this outrageous thievery and fraud.”
If found guilty, Melngailis and Strangis face up to 15 years in prison.