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Fugitive restaurateur who championed raw food caught, charged

Sarma Melngailis

Sevier County Sheriff’s Department

NEW YORK -- The former owner of several high-end food companies has been arrested nearly a year after disappearing when financial troubles led to a series of lawsuits filed by investors and employees, and a 24-count indictment related to fraud and unpaid taxes and wages.

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Anthony Strangis

Sevier County Sheriff's Department

Sarma Melngailis - the owner of Pure Food and Wine, a New York City restaurant frequented by celebrities, and two other companies that sold plant-based, raw food and other organic products - and her husband Anthony Strangis were arrested Tuesday in Sevierville, Tennessee, and are awaiting extradition, according to the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson.

They are accused of stealing $844,000 from four investors, failing to pay $400,000 in taxes, and "shortchanging employees" $40,000 in wages, Thompson said Thursday in press release, which noted that Strangis had been introduced to restaurant staff as "Shane Fox."

"The defendants instead spent about $2 million in casinos, on expensive watches and on luxury travel until their business finally closed in July 2015," Thompson said.

An indictment of the suspects accuses them of transferring more than $1.6 million from business accounts to Melngailis' personal bank account. Luxury purchases allegedly made with those funds include more than $80,000 at specialty watch retailers, more than $70,000 at hotels in Europe and New York, and more than $10,000 on Uber car rides.

The defendants face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top count with which they are charged.