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Police Revisit 2002 Homicide Case

A reward is to be offered in an effort to find who killed two men found dead in a burning car in Studio City.

December 19, 2003|Richard Fausset and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

By the fall of 2000, however, his scheme was falling apart. On Oct. 17 of that year, Yagalla was arrested by the FBI on mail fraud charges. He pleaded guilty to securities fraud violations on Valentine's Day 2002 and was sentenced to five years and five months in federal prison.

According to federal prosecutors, Sandy Bentley has asserted that she did not know about Yagalla's fraudulent business dealings when she received the gifts. But in an attempt to reimburse more than 100 investors hit by the scam, a receiver appointed by the federal court in a Securities and Exchange Commission action against Yagalla demanded that she turn over all of Yagalla's presents.

Sandy Bentley initially refused "adamantly and with vitriol" to give anything up, according to a memorandum filed in federal court by attorneys for the receiver. But eventually she turned many of the items in to the receiver, records show.

Bub said, however, that he believed she kept some of the jewelry. The estimated value of the items Tardio was hoping to sell on her behalf was $500,000 to $700,000, the detective said.

On Sunday, Sept. 1, 2002, Tardio had the night off from his job at the Garden of Eden, a glitzy Hollywood club frequented by actors, models and hangers-on -- and the place where he originally met Sandy Bentley. He picked up Monson and headed for Studio City.

Police have records of cellphone calls made from the sport utility vehicle they traveled in through the Hollywood Hills and into the Valley. It was the last time the men were heard from.

Police have no witnesses to explain what happened to Tardio and Monson. A passing motorist came upon the flaming vehicle at 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 2, and firefighters did not discover the bodies until the fire was out.

Bub and Tyndall said they believe Tardio and Monson were killed by the person, or people, whom Tardio had arranged to meet. The detectives suspect that the fire was set to destroy evidence, but some evidence collected at the scene suggests that the two men were robbed. Police would not say whether jewelry was found in the car with the bodies.

Like Sandy Bentley, Yagalla is not a suspect in the case, police said. He is in a federal prison camp in Pensacola, Fla. Neither Sandy Bentley nor Yagalla could be reached for this report.

Detectives are exploring other theories in the case. They said it is possible the suspect was someone who had other business dealings with Monson or Tardio. It is also possible that Tardio was targeted by one of the hundreds of spurned club-goers he turned away from the Garden of Eden.

But most likely, Bub said, the motive was robbery.

"If they made a movie out of this," said Neil Tardio Jr., "no one would believe it."

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