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Crime News

On The Run With The 'Bad Vegan' Couple: How Did They Wind up in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee?

Former vegan restaurant owner Sarma MeIngailis and her husband Anthony Strangis, spent their final time on the lam in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee,

By Gina Tron
Sarma Melngailis G

Sarma MeIngailis, once a celebrity restaurant owner who brought raw and vegan food to the forefront, eventually became a fugitive who was apprehended after her husband ordered Domino’s pizza to their hideout hotel room near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. 

Tabloids had a field day with MeIngailis’ fall from grace, from “Vegan Queen” to a bad boss who owed her employees wages, to a fugitive possibly eating Domino’s in a Tennessee hotel room. And as Netflix’s new docuseries “Bad Vegan” shows, her downfall was nothing short of dramatic. The founder of the One Lucky Duck and Pure Food and Wine eateries in New York City, saw her life go downhill after she married compulsive liar and gambler Anthony Strangis, who also went by the name Shane Fox.

The manipulative big talker apparently managed to convince Melngailis that he would make both her, and her beloved pit bull, immortal. He claimed that he was putting her through a series of tests to do so. These tests required her to make wire transfers to him, on-demand, of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In turn, he promised that she would become a queen in another form and realm. Strangis also intimated that he was not human. 

Some of these tests involved traveling all over the world, almost where there was a large casino presence. They traveled together to Europe, and, once, Strangis told MeIngailis that she had to travel to Italy as part of a test that would determine if she'd be able to become a queen. 

But, of course, she did not become queen. Instead, she became a fugitive after she neglected to pay her investors and employees the millions of dollars that she owed them; all the money was going to Strangis. When it was clear that both she and Strangis were in legal trouble, they hit the road in 2015 and spent months on the lam. Much of that time was spent, naturally, in Las Vegas gambling. Meanwhile, her restaurants crumbled.

But, not long before they were caught, they ended up in Pigeon Forge, a mountain town and tourist area which is the home of Dolly Parton's Appalachia-themed park. The pair were staying at Fairfield Inn & Suites in Sevierville, a hotel located a few miles away when Strangis ordered pizza using his credit card in May of 2016. That pizza order ultimately led to their arrests.

Sevier County Police Department Det. Ray Brown, whose department arrested the pair, says in "Bad Vegan" that he believes that the pair were in the area because it is a high tourism area

“It’s very easy for people to blend in here,” he said. 

MeIngailis ended up serving four months at Rikers for grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, and a scheme to defraud. Meanwhile, Strangis received five years of probation for taking nearly one million dollars from the businesses.