Sarma Melngailis, dubbed the "Vegan Bernie Madoff," is headed to New York's Rikers Island to carry out a three-month sentence after confessing to stealing over $1 million from investors and former staffers.
On Wednesday, Melngailis appeared before the Brooklyn Supreme Court, "accused of withholding $40,000 in wages from 84 employees, stealing $840,000 from investors, and siphoning a further $1.6 million from her business accounts," according to The Daily Mail.
The 44-year-old was said to have held a Bible behind her back as the judge relayed her sentence: three months at Rikers Island and $1.5 million in restitution payments.
Melngailis made a name for herself when she opened two popular vegan restaurants in Manhattan, Lucky Duck restaurant and Pure Food & Wine. The hipster vegan was riding high before the uncovered scam; she reportedly had book deals in the works and endless celebrity patrons, such as former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton and actors Alec Baldwin and Woody Harrelson, among others.
But the two eateries were apparently embedded in her scam: with the help of her estranged husband, Anthony Strangis, Melngailis stiffed a reported 84 employees from their earned wages, scammed investors of the restaurants and failed to pay $400,000 in sales tax.
Her co-conspirator husband, who "pretended to be a cashed-up businessman in an attempt to attract new investors," pleaded guilty and will also serve three-months at Rikers.
The coupled tried to hide out after their crimes, but were pinched when a Domino's Pizza order went horribly wrong in May of 2016. (Melngailis claims the pizza was not for her, but her husband; she maintains that she's still a strict vegan.)
“Tomorrow (June 21st) I go away, most likely to Rikers, for a few months,” wrote Melngailis on her Facebook page on Tuesday. "It also happens to be the Summer Solstice. The change of seasons and the longest day of the year — seems like the right day to be going.”
“I’m actually relieved this day is here,” she added.
“Obviously this is a sad day for her,” said the vegan's defense attorney. Melngailis' defense team tried to paint the criminal as a victim of her husband.
“She was badly abused and controlled by a lifelong predator and fraudster,” said defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, in May. “There is not a cage big enough, literally or figuratively, that can hold [Strangis]. His only concern upon getting out will be finding his next victim, so he can go on, not working, preying upon someone else’s hard work.”
Strangis claims the two worked together.
"If they had taken the case to trial, both could have faced 15 years in prison for grand larceny," notes The Daily Mail.