TV & Radio

Bad Vegan: How Alec Baldwin is connected to Netflix’s new scam documentary

Bad Vegan, the new documentary from the creators of Tiger King and Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened, arrived on Netflix on 16 March.

The four-part series explores how Sarma Melngailis, the celebrity restauranteur behind the starry New York eatery Pure Food and Wine, went from being a trailblazer in vegan cuisine to a wanted woman referred to as the “vegan fugitive”.

It tells the story of how, shortly after meeting a man named Shane Fox on Twitter in 2011, Melngailis began draining her restaurant’s funds and sending the money to Fox. He had allegedly manipulated her into believing he could make her and her beloved pitbull immortal (a claim Strangis has denied), and told her she had to wire him huge sums of money as a test of her trust in him.

A few years later, the couple got married and went on the run, after stealing nearly $2m from the restaurant and its staff. They were eventually found by authorities, hiding in a Tennessee motel, after Fox made the mistake of ordering a pizza to their room under his real name: Anthony Strangis.

The story is unusual in many ways, and one of its most surprising elements is the involvement of Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin. Years before Melngailis went on the run, the Saturday Night Live star was one of Pure Food and Wine’s celebrity fans, and he would regularly post about the restaurant online. “When in New York, folks, go to Pure Food and Wine even if just to stare at Sarma,” he once posted on Facebook.

Baldwin and Melngailis met at the restaurant and would talk a lot on the phone and email. In the documentary, she says: “Sometimes when you meet somebody, you feel like you already known them. It felt like that with him.”

Baldwin had a crush on Melngailis but she was in a relationship at the time. When he told her he wanted a partner, she advised him to get a pet dog instead. It was while looking for dogs online for Baldwin that Melngailis spotted Leon – a pitbull who she ended up adopting and naming, and who Fox/Strangis would later tell her he could make immortal.

“I was incredibly drawn to [the dog] for some reason I couldn’t explain,” she says in the documentary. A short while later, Melngailis and her boyfriend split up, and she was left heartbroken. She regretted “not going further with Alec” as her relationship had ended anyway. Then, Baldwin met his current wife, Hilaria, at Pure Food and Wine.

With a relationship with Baldwin off the table, Melngailis began to look elsewhere. In 2011, she noticed that Baldwin had been bantering with a man called Shane Fox online. Melngailis began to flirt with Fox on the online game Words with Friends and after a few months of chatting on the internet they got together.

“I got Leon because of Alec and then Alec met Hilaria at my restaurant, and it’s fitting that I then meet this guy via Alex. It seemed like it all made sense,” says Melngailis in the show.

Strangis’s attorney has denied that Strangis had used the accounts or handles linked to these claims, or that he had sought to place himself in Baldwin’s virtual orbit.

As soon as Melngailis met her future husband Fox/Strangis, everything started going downhill. Read the full story of what happened here.

Bad Vegan is out now in its entirety on Netflix.

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