Warning – contains spoilers!
Last night we finished watching the documentary, Bad Vegan, on Netflix and boy was I glad when it reached the end. I became so annoyed with the protagonist, Sarma Melngailis, for having fallen into the swindler’s trap that I nearly strangled the telly. I’ve never shouted so many obscenities at a TV, ever.
Please point out one single person who when told that their dog could be made to be immortal, would give away (sic) $4 million. You can’t can you? Well, that’s the gist of Bad Vegan, a true story of fraud, theft, mind control, gaslighting, and sheer stupidity from a woman who should have known better. But that’s the hook, isn’t it? As viewers, we know it’s all going to go south, but we can’t help ourselves from ogling on the sidelines, particularly when we hear, “Don’t worry, it’s all going to be fine!”, from one of the rogues involved. It’s clear from further investigation on my part that Sarma, having been convicted, jailed, and then released, is now the object of pity and sympathy. Her Instagram account is a testament to that fact and she is clearly painted as the victim, in spite of the fact that she cared more for her dog, Leon, than she did for her employees, whom she left stranded, unpaid, unemployed, and broke.
Unlike Bad Vegan, Inventing Anna is a TV series from the Shondaland stable and dramatises the single-handed antics of con-woman Anna Sorokin, aka Anna Delvey, who spins a yarn to New York socialites and investment bankers that she’s a German heiress with a trust fund worth millions. She succeeds in hoodwinking numerous victims out of thousands of dollars and appears to be utterly convinced of her alternative reality. And she believes in that alternative reality with such conviction that, as viewers, we are almost taken in ourselves. She even goes to such lengths as using a virtual SIM in her phone, downloads a voice-disguising app, pretends to be the German administrator of the non-existent million dollar trust fund, and calls an investment banker simply to enforce the veracity of her story. The entire saga is quite remarkable in itself, but was is even more extraordinary is that Netflix is said to have paid her $320,000 which she then used (miraculously) to pay off restitution and other debts related to her nefarious activities. See? Crime pays.
The Tinder Swindler
In this documentary, three women from different parts of the world recount how they were collectively swindled out of more than $500,000 by the smooth-talking Shimon Hayut, aka Simon Leviev, leaving them in terrible debt and emotional wrecks. Again, the viewer is left asking, how could you be so stupid? But love is blind, as the saying goes, and each of them tells us that they fell in love with the swindler and went to extraordinary lengths to send him money. It even got to the point where one of the women was sending money to the conman so that he could maintain the lavish champagne lifestyle with one of the other three, with her clearly not realising the fact until it was too late. Although the rogue swindler was convicted and jailed in Finland some years ago, he has apparently committed numerous frauds, yet the law has yet to catch up with him again and he maintains a jet-setting lifestyle in Israel with a new girlfriend, who denies point-blank that he’s a fraudster.
I suppose with human nature being what it is, we get a kick out of fly-on-the-wall shows, especially when there’s a villain involved. Take bank heists, for example. If no one is hurt or killed, I’m generally rooting for the robbers and hoping they get away with it. On the other hand, where there are multiple victims who are relieved of their life savings and pensions by a heartless conman and actually borrow money to pay the scoundrel, my sympathies are clearly with the victims, in spite of the fact that they should have known better.
If you need some more swindler intrigue, Hulu is streaming The Dropout, a dramatisation of the Elizabeth Holmes story. She was recently convicted of fraud as CEO of a biotech start-up, Theranos which went public for around $9 billion.