Crimes, Dark Side Of Life

A Tale of Sandy Bentley And Mark Yagalla

February 20, 2011
Michael Tardio & Christopher Monson Reward Flyer

Ex-Playboy cover girl Sandy Bentley is taking the trends by storm. The former live-in lover of the world’s most famous bachelor, Hugh Hefner, is today one of the top Google trends, for being associated with Mark Yagalla, a New York Ponzi schemer, and Michael Tardio, the victims of a gruesome 2002 murder.

Sandy Bentley

Sandy Bentley reportedly received nearly $750,000 worth of jewelry from Yagalla, who was her lover in the summer of 1999. The jewelry connects Yagalla to the gruesome 2002 double murder of Michael Tardio and Christopher Monson, who were found shot to death, in a burning Mercedes SUV on Sept. 2, 2002, in Studio City, California. However Yagalla is not a suspect. Sandy Bentley, who was dating Michael Tardio, is not a suspect either. The sudden interest in these two characters can also be explained by the fact that they were the subject of the “48 Hours Mystery” show Saturday night.

Sandy, together with her identical twin sister, Mandy, was one of the Playboy’s acclaimed “Bentley Twins.” The sisters lived with Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion, – both as his lovers. Back in 2000 they appeared on some of television’s most popular shows, like “Sex and the City,” “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and on “Two and a Half Men,” where they played party girls. Since 2000, however, the twins have fallen out of the limelight.

Bentley twins on cover of Playboy

The CBS show “48 Hours Mystery: “Playing with Fire” was aired on Saturday night and has inspired fresh interest in the killing of 35-year-old part-time model and doorman at the Garden of Eden (at that time, Hollywood’s hottest nightclub), Michael Tardio and his 31-year-old friend, Chris Monsoon. The pair was found in a Mercedes SUV shot at close range. The culprit had attempted to burn the car.

Detectives could not find any identifiable fingerprints or any useable evidence they could use and no one in the neighborhood had heard shots fire, giving rise to the belief that the murder took place somewhere else and the bodies then driven to another location.

Tardio and Monsoon are believed to have been trying to secretly sell $750,000 worth of jewellery on the night they were killed. These jewels belonged to Tardio’s then-girlfriend and former Playboy bunny Sandy Bentley, whom he met on the Hollywood club scene. The pin-up girl had acquired the valuable items from ex-boyfriend and Ponzi schemer Mark Yagalia before his $40 million ponzi scheme Asbury Capital fund collapsed, who claims to have been “madly in love” with her. She, in turn was “madly in love with his money”.

Yagalia estimates that he spent between $6 or $7 million on Bentley during the 13 months they dated.  The money went on a house, furs, cars, Rolex watches and jewellery, including an exact diamond and ruby replica of the necklace and earring set Richard Gere gives to Julia Roberts in the film Pretty Woman, costing around a quarter of a million dollars.

Before meeting Yagalia, Bentley was a live-in girlfriend of Hugh Hefner at his Playboy mansion, together with her twin Mandy. According to Hef’s other girlfriend Izabela St.James, who went on to write a book about her experiences at the mansion, Sandy did not treat the octogenarian well and cheated on him repeatedly.

But in the late summer of 1999, while still at the Playboy Mansion and long before Sandy Bentley began dating Michael Tardio, she quietly became involved with multimillionaire Mark Yagalla, a self described Wall Street whiz kid.

Yagalla had big dreams. And Sandy Bentley quickly became a part of them when he was introduced to her by another Playboy model.

Mark Yagalla and Sandy Bentley

The ill-gotten jewels that he gave her would later cause the killing of two innocent men. Tardio and Monsoon were trying to unload the stash, which was illegally paid for by Yagalia clients’ money and not his own, as federal authorities were under orders to seize it.

Attorney Eugene Licker, who was responsible for finding out where Yagalla squandered his victims’ millions so they could get some money back. A major target: the gifts Yagalla lavished on Sandy Bentley.

“The judge ordered Sandy Bentley to hand over the house, the jewelry, the cars,” says Licker.

Faced with losing everything, a desperate Sandy Bentley went to her new boyfriend, Michael Tardio, for help.

And that’s just what happened according to surveillance video a private investigator shot at Sandy Bentley’s Las Vegas mansion the week those two allegedly took those jewels.

It’s estimated that Michael Tardio and Sandy Bentley made off with nearly $1 million in jewels and furs.

“He was doing it for his girlfriend,” Blankstein says. “He wanted to sell the stuff off, give her money, and obviously satisfy her.”

Fearful that she would be prosecuted for the missing jewels, Sandy Bentley told Eugene Licker the jewels were lost, or stolen by someone else.

Bentley later admitted to cops that she and Michael Tardio planned to cash in the jewels and that he had finally found a buyer at the Garden of Eden.

Michael Tardio had been talking to a guy at the nightclub and the person said he knew someone was interested in the jewelry. So Michael Tardio asked to set up a meeting. It was with a mysterious man known as “Mr. Big.”

September 1, 2002, would be Michael Tardio’s last day alive.

Looking to play the part for his meeting with Mr. Big, Tardio rented a black Mercedes SUV. And he asked his best friend Chris Monson to accompany him to the meeting. At around 9:30 p.m., Tardio and Monson and set out on their fatal rendezvous.

Their first stop was a restaurant on Sunset Blvd, where cops believe they met “Mr. Big.” After meeting the prospective buyer, “Mr. Big,” they head up into the Hollywood Hills. Less than two hours later, police believe Tardio and Monson were shot somewhere in the Hollywood Hills.

In 2002, the strongest lead cops had was that telephone number Michael Tardio had left with his girlfriend, Sandy Bentley. It linked to a person who would play a central role in the investigation.

“This person has been interviewed a number of times. He’s been surveilled a number of times. There’s been a lot of pressure put on this person of interest,” says Det. Bill Cox.

“48 Hours” has learned he’s talking about Michael Jacobs, a convicted felon. People from the Garden of Eden nightclub told “48 Hours” Jacobs and Michael Tardio discussed selling the jewels. Police believe Jacobs brought Tardio and “Mr. Big” together for the million-dollar jewelry deal.

“Surely Michael Jacobs knows who the guy is that he set Michael Tardio up with, ’cause he’s the middle man,” says Det. Cox.

Police say evidence shows that in the hours before the killings, calls were made between the cell phones of Michael Tardio and Jacobs multiple times during the day and into the night.

“There’s no doubt in our mind, Michael Jacobs is key to the case,” says Cox.

It’s been more than eight years since the murders. The woman at the center of it all, who once wore those millions in jewels – Playboy cover girl Sandy Bentley – is a little less glamorous today. She is married and a mother.

Police hope the CBS show will encourage those who have more information to come forward. “There are people who knew something but maybe were fearful,” LAPD Detective Dennis English told the N.Y. Daily News. “We hope now they’ve matured.”

The Los Angeles City Council has renewed a $75,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in this case.

Michael Tardio & Christopher Monson Reward Flyer

You can watch the CBS “48 Hours: Playing With Fire” here. It is an intriguing tale so do watch it.

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