Dog on the Move

‘Tinder Swindler,’ ‘Unhealthy Vegan’ Stars: Netflix Failed Abuse Victims

  • The celebs of “Unhealthy Vegan” and “The Tinder Swindler” really feel they had been misrepresented by Netflix. 
  • Cecilie Fjellhøy mentioned her Tinder fraudster was a “harmful man” however wasn’t offered that manner. 
  • Sarma Melngailis of “Unhealthy Vegan” mentioned Netflix “made a mockery” of her abuse.

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“‘Unhealthy Vegan: Fame: Fraud: Fugitives” and “The Tinder Swindler” had been big hits for Netflix in 2022. However for the ladies whose experiences by the hands of manipulative males had been revealed to thousands and thousands within the compelling scammer documentaries, the publicity has been a blended blessing — a supply of remorse but additionally a trigger for hope.

Cecilie Fjellhøy was the sufferer of a high-profile romantic rip-off by Simon Leviev (whose actual identify is Shimon Hayut), the so-called Tinder Swindler.

Leviev is a “harmful man,” whom she fell in love with and misplaced all her cash to after months of economic and emotional abuse, Fjellhøy mentioned.

As soon as she realized what was occurring — that her lover was behind a Ponzi scheme designed to rip-off ladies out of tens of hundreds of {dollars} — she went to the police, who simply laughed at her, she advised Insider. 

She turned to the media in her house nation of Norway, and her story went viral. Uncooked Movies, an award-winning manufacturing firm in London, picked it up and turned it into the hit docuseries “The Tinder Swindler,” distributed by Netflix.

‘It is simply one other telling of how stupidly in love we had been’

Fjellhøy needed a factual documentary, she advised Insider.  

“I needed to know why it’s so troublesome to catch this man. To know why the police aren’t doing sufficient, why it was so easy for him to commit this fraud? These had been the massive questions I needed the movie to reply.”

“So once we had been advised it was not going to be that, I used to be actually upset. It is simply one other telling of how stupidly in love we had been,” she mentioned. 

“Even calling it the ‘Tinder Swindler,’ it simply was branded from the beginning,” she mentioned. “It simply made it appear not as severe.”

Netflix centered on the methods the ladies fell for the fraud somewhat than the merciless crimes dedicated by Leviev, Fjellhøy mentioned. 

A screenshot of a phone contact for Simon Leviev from the documentary.

The Tinder Swindler was launched on February 2, 2022.


“Lots of people do not even perceive that it is a documentary,” Fjellhøy advised Insider. “We’ve folks come as much as us as if we’re actresses and asking if we’re actual. Typically documentaries could be too well-made. Folks aren’t even taking a look at you as an actual individual.

“And that is laborious if you’re airing your most private tales. It’s important to present the way you went from being very a lot in love, you already know, to have to speak about the way you virtually killed your self.”

Fjellhøy mentioned she cried the primary time she noticed it. “I simply felt silly as a result of I used to be the one picked to be the image of affection,” she mentioned. “I needed to be sincere about what number of matches I had on Tinder, how lengthy I might been on there, and the way I seen love. I needed to say that I slept with him on the primary date. I needed to say stuff that I did not need to say. So that you’re getting used.”

In describing the unfavourable suggestions she received after the present aired, she mentioned {that a} man approached her in Los Angeles to inform her she was “so embarrassing,” as a substitute of the sufferer of a posh crime. 

When requested if Netflix portrayed the abuse appropriately, Fjellhøy mentioned, “No, that is why I needed it to be extra investigative and perhaps have a psychologist. Somebody to clarify what the abuse really was.”

Breaking unhealthy vegan

One other documentary star, Sarma Melngailis of “Unhealthy Vegan,” additionally criticized Netflix for its portrayal of her.

Sarma Melngailis, co-author during

Sarma Melngailis, co-author throughout “RAW FOOD/actual world” E-book Launch Celebration at Pure Meals and Wine in New York Metropolis, New York, United States.

Theo Wargo/WireImage

Melngailis put uncooked vegan meals on the map. Her New York restaurant, Pure Meals and Wine, opened in 2004 and helped plant-based consuming transfer away from a minority area of interest to being favored by the wealthy and well-known. 

Celebrities flocked to her restaurant to pattern such dishes as mango and Thai basil salad, which a New York Journal overview described as providing “as a lot unique sunniness as one bowl can comprise.” 

Her enterprise enterprise was successful, and Melngailis was feted. After which she met her abuser. 

Netflix documented the rise and public fall of Melngailis in “Unhealthy Vegan,” directed by Chris Smith of  “Fyre: The Best Occasion That By no means Occurred” fame.

Melngailis’ companies collapsed in 2015 after her unpaid employees walked out, and he or she was nowhere to be discovered. 

There was confusion and anger from her workers, associates, and associates — how did this lady crash every thing she’d labored so laborious to construct?

Behind closed doorways, she was being sexually, mentally, and financially abused, Melngailis advised Insider.

Her associate, Anthony Strangis, was manipulating her into ultimately stealing $2 million from her traders and workers. 

The pair went lacking and had been discovered ordering pizza in a resort room in Tennessee in 2016. In 2017, Melngailis took a plea deal and pleaded responsible to prison tax fraud, grand larceny, and premeditated fraud, and served 4 months at Rikers Island in the summertime of 2017.

She spent 4 months in jail, and Strangis spent almost a 12 months behind bars. 

Melngailis felt Netflix was mocking her

Sarma Melngailis and her dog Leon

Sarma Melngailis and her canine Leon

Sarma Melngailis

Netflix “made a joke” of the trauma she endured by the hands of Strangis, Melngailis mentioned. “Unhealthy Vegan” included many inaccuracies, she claimed, and did a “nice disservice to all of the folks which were by way of one thing like this.”

Probably the most mind-blowing a part of Melngailis’ abuse could be the immortal-dog storyline: Strangis was capable of persuade the profitable restaurant entrepreneur that her beloved Staffy, Leon, might turn out to be immortal. 

For individuals who have not skilled abusive management, this may sound inconceivable, however the docudrama establishes that it was a part of the best way Strangis managed to regulate Melgnalis and persuade her that he had superhuman powers that she, too, might entry if she simply did what he mentioned.

In the future, as Melngailis was scrolling by way of Twitter, she got here throughout a publish from a spoof account known as Perpetual Pup, run by Netflix. 

“You needed to make your canine immortal. You are not alone,” learn the tweet, which had a video connected known as “Not All Canine Need to Go to Heaven.” 

Confused, Melngailis watched the video of canine chasing Frisbees, whereas a narrator mentioned you’ll be able to “say goodbye to saying goodbye.”

“Uncomfortable side effects might embody confusion, sudden modifications in habits, and/or lack of cash. Extreme wire transfers might happen. When you have a historical past of questionable romantic relationships, Perpetual could also be best for you,” the advert riffed, earlier than reducing to an image of Melgnailis’ face, revealing itself as an advert for “Unhealthy Vegan.”

“I’d genuinely be curious, simply as a research of human nature, to ask all these folks to clarify what they had been pondering,” mentioned Melngailis. “As a result of you already know what, would they’ve made a promo like that for a documentary about Harvey Weinstein?

“I have been bodily, emotionally, and sexually abused — they usually made a mockery of the entire thing. They had been principally mocking psychological abuse.” 

Sarma Melngailis' dog Leon

Sarma Melngailis’ canine Leon

Sarma Melngailis

Melngailis mentioned that even she would not totally perceive how Strangis did what he did. “It isn’t a lot that he had me totally satisfied of these items, it is extra that he was capable of get my consciousness to seize on to those ideas as prospects, and the extra I imagined them, the extra indifferent from actuality I received.”

“What I do know,” she continued, “is that this sort of manipulation — abuse, actually — is a lot extra frequent than we expect, and so for Netflix to have made that marketing campaign was a kick within the face to lots of people who’ve endured such abuse. It was reinforcing the concept that he could not be authentic, that we are the loopy ones.”

Netflix has not responded to Insider’s request for remark. 

Beforehand requested by The Guardian if the present was honest to Melngailis, director Chris Smith mentioned  “Look, every thing is shades of gray.”

“We tried to symbolize it as precisely as we might from the data we had by way of the documentation that was offered to us and thru the interview.”

The earnings go to Netflix 

Romantic scams, and scammer documentaries on the whole, have confirmed extremely profitable for Netlflix. 

“Unhealthy Vegan” and “The Tinder Swindler” had been each within the top-10 most-viewed reveals the week they aired, in accordance with Netflix knowledge.

However the stars mentioned that having their story platformed would not repair their monetary losses. The cost for the rights to their tales did not cowl their money owed, they mentioned.  

Melngailis mentioned that it wasn’t price it for all of the backlash and abuse she confronted after the documentary aired — which she blames on the present’s framing. “They made my life harder and put me by way of extra shit,” she mentioned.

Fjellhøy advised Insider that after being part of a preferred and influential Netflix documentary, “everyone seems to be pondering that we’re millionaires now,” she mentioned. 

Cecilie Fjellhøy talks about falling in love with a man on Tinder who turned out to be a seasoned con artist.

In “The Tinder Swindler,Cecilie Fjellhøy talks about falling in love with a person on Tinder who turned out to be a seasoned con artist.

Courtesy of Netflix

“The folks on the backside that get the least give all of it. I do not see something of this success. We’re nonetheless battling debt, and we’re in courts and every thing. However it was superb for Netflix,” Fjellhøy mentioned.

Netflix didn’t reply to Insider’s requests for touch upon Fjellhøy and Melngailis’ complaints.

In response to Melngailis’ criticism of “Unhealthy Vegan,” director Chris Smith advised The Guardian: “Look, every thing is shades of grey. We tried to symbolize it as precisely as we might from the data we had by way of the documentation that was offered to us and thru the interview.”

From rip-off victims to heroines

By way of affect on the lives of rip-off victims all over the place, Melngailis, Fjellhøy, and Ayleen Charlotte, one other certainly one of Simon Leviev’s victims, advised Insider they had been grateful for the chance to assist folks. 

Regardless of the hardships which have come from each the rip-off itself and the aftermath of the documentary, Fjellhøy mentioned it was “price it” for the love she has additionally obtained. 

“I’ve gotten so many messages saying I am inspiring and I am courageous, they usually actually admire the braveness that is taken, which has made it rather more price it,” she mentioned, including that individuals inform her she’d helped them overcome their embarrassment over being the sufferer of a rip-off. 

Charlotte — the “unhealthy bitch” sufferer of  “The Tinder Swindler,” as she put it — had a constructive expertise with the documentary, she advised Insider. 

“I needed to place his face on the market as a result of nothing had been executed with my case. Second, I need to assist folks. And that is what I did. I imply, I received so many superb messages from everywhere in the world, and that I gave lots of people a whole lot of braveness for doing what I did, as properly,” Charlotte advised Insider.

Melngailis, whereas remaining important of Netflix, agreed that “one of many issues that I’ve heard time and again — it’s  often ladies however often males — however individuals who have been manipulated in some type of comparable manner really feel much less alone.”

“I’ve additionally heard from a great deal of folks telling me that watching it has impressed them to attempt going or shifting in direction of vegan. In order that’s good, not less than! A number of animals saved, maybe,” she mentioned, ending our electronic mail communication with a winking emoji. 

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