Sarma of Bad Vegan had an affair with her married lawyer, may have jeopardized her case

TW: Sexual assault
The more details I learn about Sarma Melngailis of Bad Vegan, the more bizarre this story seems. Last week we heard that Sarma had a fling in 2012, before her marriage, with a different abusive POS, comic Louis CK. Louis gave her an STD and was dismissive and rude to her about it over email.

There’s also news that Sarma had an affair with her married lawyer before she was sentenced to prison in 2017. Sarma’s first lawyer, a woman named Sheila Tendy, wanted to use the defense that Sarma was a victim of coercive control and sexual abuse by her husband, Anthony Strangis. Strangis was the dumpy svengali who convinced Sarma to send him large sums of money, leading her to default on her restaurant’s payroll. However Sarma replaced Tendy with another lawyer named Jeffrey Lichtman, who had represented John Gotti and El Chapo. Lichtman abandoned that strategy and had Sarma focus on restitution.

Tendy was interviewed for an article by Allen Salkin, the Vanity Fair journalist who was featured in Bad Vegan. Tendy told Salkin that Sarma’s new lawyer had her pleading guilty to three counts instead of just one. She ended up getting sentenced to a year in prison and serving four months. What’s more is that Sarma and her second married lawyer, Lichtman, were romantically involved. Lichtman didn’t deny this when questioned about it. Whatever happened between them is likely over now though, because Sarma called him an “compacted turd” when asked for comment. Here’s part of Salkin’s article:

Tendy was working on getting the Manhattan Special Victims Unit involved in investigating whether Melngailis was the victim of sex crimes by Strangis. And the lawyer was asking the Brooklyn DA if their office could pry loose financial records from tribal casinos to find out if Strangis had gambled away the vast sums he’d been wired or had channeled funds elsewhere.

In court documents, Tendy and her co-counsel César de Castro argued that “Mr. Strangis repeatedly raped Sarma, forcing her to commit sexual acts against her will,” and quoted a G-chat in which Melngails accuses him of forcing her to perform oral sex. Strangis was never charged with any sex or assault related crimes in this case.

But Strangis being charged was not essential to Tendy’s multi-tiered strategy. An active investigation of such charges alone might be something the Brooklyn court would consider in its appraisal of Melngailis culpability in the fraud case…

Tendy tells me now that when she was working out a plea deal with the court, it was to have Melngailis plead guilty to one felony charge only and to have Strangis be liable for all restitution.

The Netflix documentary, which is gripping, omits some fascinating details about what happened next on the legal front.

In the Spring of 2017, right as Tendy’s legal strategy was playing out, Melngailis fired Tendy and hired Jeffrey Lichtman, a lawyer best known for defending a mafia figure, John Gotti Jr. and the drug lord El Chapo, and for hosting a radio talk show.

Melngailis has offered little explanation of why she switched from a strong female with a great reputation to a man known for helping Gotti beat three charges of murder conspiracy. She has told me that she was not completely aware of all the angles Tendy was pursuing and was frustrated that jail time seemed inevitable.

Lichtman did not continue to try to push the sex crimes charges, and Melngailis was not interested in that either. Lichtman was relying on a method that had worked for him before to lessen time his clients would have to spend behind bars, focusing, he told me in a 2017 interview, on restitution.

Lichtman has not replied to my new requests sent via email and text message for comment about the Melngailis case. After it was over, The New York Post reported that he had engaged in a sexual affair with Melngailis. Lichtman told The Post, “This is a deeply personal matter that I’m going to try to deal with privately, but I’m proud of my legal work in this case.”

In Lichtman’s text messages that were published in the Post, he disparaged Tendy and said she is “obsessed with sexual abuse.”

Tendy bristled at the accusations. “Anyone would wonder how an attorney could represent a client in a case with strong evidence of sexual abuse and coercion, sleep with that client, and at the same time disparage her former lawyer as “obsessed with sexual abuse.”

“Jeffrey Lichtman takes over and she goes from pleading guilty to one charge to pleading guilty to three,” Tendy said. “I wouldn’t have wanted her to have a ‘scheme to defraud’ on her record…”

Melngailis herself refused an interview about Lichtman when I reached her this week, asking me, “Are you writing about that compacted turd?”

[From Forward via Parade]

Salkin’s article goes on to wonder whether public perception of Sarma would be sympathetic if she hadn’t fired Tendy as her lawyer and had successfully argued in court that she was victimized by Strangis. As I mentioned in the last story on Bad Vegan, the issue of coercive control and abuse was only tangential to the documentary and was barely focused on. I would blame Bad Vegan’s filmmaker for not including these crucial details, but it sounds like Sarma was still in denial about it and wasn’t forthcoming either. Salkin describes her as “shellshocked” when he first interviewed her after her arrest in 2016.

Leave it to Sarma to screw up her defense by hiring a terrible lawyer and getting involved with him. I hope she’s in therapy and is taking some time to be single. There are certainly enough additional twists to this story to lead to a second documentary. Given the popularity of Bad Vegan, I’m assuming it’s coming.

Also Sarma’s dog, Leon, is still alive at 12.

Photos credit: Netflix

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35 Responses to “Sarma of Bad Vegan had an affair with her married lawyer, may have jeopardized her case”

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  1. girl_ninja says:

    I remember reading an article about Sarma and her lawyer a few years back. I remember thinking that she is drawn to horrible abusive men. The attorney should have to answer to the bar association about abuse. Who knows how many other clients he’s taken advantage of. She seems to want a partner, someone she can connect with to take care of her and take over for her. She’s got to get therapy and work from this mindset.

  2. hindulovegod says:

    I watched the show and struggled to understand how this happened. She chooses to be in these manipulative, dangerous relationships over and over. She needs help but I wonder if she would accept it. The situation with the attorneys suggests she wouldn’t.

    • TeeMajor says:

      I agree, I was just thinking, ok, she slept with another BEAR dude.
      Why would she have an affair w/her attorney? He is VERY married. He is a big burly man like she likes. (close to obese looking like she likes)

      I’m finding it very hard to feel sorry for her. VERY hard.

  3. MY3CENTS says:

    I’m just wondering if she wasn’t a white, blond, attractive woman would she get all these second chances and sympathy?
    Would we even hear about her?

    • Tw says:

      No, absolutely not. And the restaurant would not have received the funding and praise it did without the editorials of her and the chef (with the actual talent that she used and discarded).

    • milliemollie says:


    • Seraphina says:

      There were times, in the docuseries, they alluded to the fact that her looks got her by on many things.
      I for one cannot comprehend how someone so bright and intelligent got mixed up into this story. It’s almost like she was willing. I don’t want to victim shame or blame, but damn – while watching the show I was like WTH?????

    • Jamie says:

      Did she allude to this as well herself ? I think it was in an article linked recently where she talked about… someone coming in for an inspection or something and being hard on the staff until she told him that she was the owner while “wearing a cute sundress I wear all the time” or something similar.

    • Shell says:

      Seems jail time as worse than restitution…so she chose a lawyer w previously wealthy criminals?

  4. Tw says:

    I said this is the comments on the previous post and I’ll say it again, Sarma is a women who manipulates and uses men for money and/or protection. She wants to be saved. This is precisely what made her an easy mark for Strangis and why she was complicit in his con for so long. The “little blonde human in pigtails” cared only about money – Alec Baldwin, Louis CK, the mob lawyer, Strangis – all not great people, one thing in common – $$$$$ (or so she thought w Strangis). She uses men for money and protection, period

    • Cait says:

      That is exactly what I got from “Bad Vegan” Sarma was a user who eventually met a more talented far more manipulative user. And now she is trying to weasel out of her own wrong doing by playing the hapless victim that had no agency what so ever in the matter

    • Bobette says:

      Yeah, I don’t think she’s a victim. She’s a manipulator and a con artist herself.

    • R says:

      TBH, I actually get autistic vibes from her. Autistic women unfortunately can often be prone to being manipulated and taken advantage of. As we saw in the doc, she was overly trusting and giving. I think that’s a huge factor, as well as the coercive control/brainwashing. I don’t see her as manipulative at all. I think it also adds another layer that she’s a beautiful blond woman with pretty privilege.

      • tw says:

        I have a friend who knows her from when they went to U Penn together, since freshman dorm. Not autistic but always too cool for school. Keep in mind she’s on a tv show “playing the victim”. “Somehow this happened. Somehow ended up here. or there. Somehow I manipulated more wealthy men into investing again into a restaurant that I literally ran into the ground.”

    • TeeMajor says:

      She’s a mess!! and I can’t summon up the sympathy YET.

      I have a serious problem w/how she handled/scammed her investors and her mentor.
      Even after she claimed to KNOW this was a shit show.

      Its like she did not have a heart–for anyone that was under 280lbs.
      I would love to know how many folks got their money back,

      ps. I have to give it to Netflix, they have some good documentaries. I love them for that.

  5. Thelma says:

    Had never heard of her before Celebitchy.

  6. lunchcoma says:

    Sarma sounds like a bad person generally, but the responsibility for this falls squarely on her lawyer. It’s deeply unethical for a lawyer to sleep with a client, especially a criminal defense attorney. That’s not in any way an interaction between people who are on equal footing.

  7. CK says:

    I followed her for years around 2005-2012 when I was into eating a more vegan diet. I remember reading a truly vicious blog of hers where she went off on her neighbor who was a “wine-stained teeth c**t” and was generally being pretty evil about people who think she has such a glamorous life (i.e, fans). It was pretty off-putting and I thought she was actually a mean person from then on. Reading the texts with her lawyer a lot of that sarcastic, gritty, manipulative tone is back and I’m just not sure she’s such a nice person. She strikes me as more complicit than she lets on.

    • Jamie says:

      The idea that Alec Baldwin is her “one who got away” says SO much about her as a person, I think it also is a good marker for the idea she was chasing men for money and got conned herself by someone better at it than she was. I think she didn’t want to admit she was in over her head by the time she realized that.

      • Gah says:


        Her weird obsession and pining for Alec Baldwin (even after he has like 6 babies and has all kinds of public gaffes and worse) is the waving red flag that gives some insight into why this woman got with Anthony- she always wanted to be w someone who had money and raised her status. No matter what it cost her.

        I was dumbfounded when she mentioned him so much in that first episode- she must have zero self awareness or concept of optics.

        It’s sad really. This is such a tricky con case bc she clearly was indeed a victim but also she was guilty- like the way she glossed over the Caledonia investor bullshit.


      • NoAh says:

        NO no PEEPS- Alec pined for SARMA. She was -honest- w him by saying she didn’t want kids because that was his dream. She tried to get him to be into shelter rescue dogs instead- Sarma was an idealist, into altruism. Sarma introduced her to Hilaria who was more malleable for Alec

        IF she was a con, she could’ve door dashed (surrogate) Alec’s babies & hired a fleet of nannies (a la Liaria Fraudwhine).

      • AppleCart says:

        I think that said volumes about her twisted idea what love was. She didn’t want Alec, but she enjoyed being ‘wanted’. And was miffed when he lost interest and moved on to a younger woman. And her last ex the chef had toxic issues. Some people just need constant chaos in their life and are chaos vampires. I had to grow up with a Mom like that. It could never just be calm and peaceful. If she wasn’t raging or finding chaos to obsess over she wasn’t happy. I see those same traits in Sarma. She sought out people like Anthony for the drama. And he gave it in buckets.

    • TeeMajor says:

      I agree with you and I did not have the back history that you did. The way that she threw her workers to the wolves and focused on superficial stuff…told me all that I needed to know.

  8. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I was willing to place primary blame on that ridiculous excuse if a man, but the more I read about her and synching that with the documentary, she needs serious help. And not from a man either. I’m feeling many levels of different issues going on. I completely understand simply checking out, but not when other people are involved and depending on you. If what you’re doing is hurting others, there’s consequences which must be dealt with. But what do I know, look at our last president.

    • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

      We can’t edit our mistakes anymore! I’m in trouble lol.

    • Noah says:

      Thanks for this compassionate take. Sarma has been a sucker for one bloated Svengali after another & seems to be a bit “off” w her social affect. (idealism that guides all decision making, ie vegan/dog rescue, anti organised religion- this worked for awhile in terms of success until she met a con artist who used this against her)

      Have you heard “a little bit cultY” podcast? She hasn’t had therapy yet- not the right kind for what she needs- she has 6 million in debt- she feels therapy isn’t an option.

      In my area, therapists are on wait lists &. specific therapists (coercive control/ cult of one extrication etc) these are not easy to find/work w/afford

  9. Smee says:

    Well of course Leon (the dog) is still alive, he’s IMMORTAL!

    • TeeMajor says:

      that all I could do. I hope her mum got her monies, returned to her.
      she is pathetic excuse for a daughter!

  10. Fuzzy Crocodile says:

    Lol – I spit up my coffee.

    Of all the weird stuff in that docuseries… the immortal dog has me baffled.

    • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

      It’s a course at Wharton.

      • tw says:

        I’m at an age where I’ve realized we really need to stop praising people for their intelligence because they gained acceptance to a school when they were a teenager. Wealth, family connections, stable home and learning environment, tutors, etc etc. are all factors in acceptance and ability to afford to attend these schools.
        I’m not impressed. Nothing worse than middle aged peeps still bragging about a school they went to when they were 20.

  11. Edith Bolton says:

    She’s trash. Not watching it. PERIODT.

  12. ghoulie says:

    I tend to believe she has what used to be called Asperger’s syndrome, but it seems her intelligence should have prevented her from falling for Shane/Anthony and his bullcrap. Aspies, especially females, can be really naive and idealistic. There’s something very wounded about her. Maybe she was badly bullied as a girl and doesn’t feel she can do better than this slob.

  13. Lilli says:

    When Sarma was being described as a kid and as an adult the thing that leapt out was this is a description of a woman on the autistic spectrum. Autistic women can be very vulnerable to coercive, manipulative narcissists and seeing that she then fell for the egotistical (and probably another manipulative narcissist) just shows she is vulnerable to these kind of men and how someone intelligent can still be so captured. She seems to just be wanting someone to take care of her so falls for anyone who says what she wants to hear. Strangis is a sociapathic narcissist and should be banged up for far longer…and remember, he suggested that giving salt to his infant would be a way to kill it without it being detected.