LAPD: 2002 execution murders tied to Wall Street scheme, stolen jewelry

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Police Department detectives believe a mysterious 9-year-old double murder was tied to an elaborate Wall Street ponzi scheme and a plan to sell expensive jewelry.

The killing of the two men on a quiet Studio City street has perplexed detectives, who have been slowly trying to unravel what happened.

Despite initial progress in the case, police said they need more help to close it. They hope it will come in the form of information generated by a $75,000 reward being proposed Friday by Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, whose district includes the crime scene.

On Labor Day 2002, a Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle was found ablaze on a quiet street in Studio City. Inside were the bullet-riddled bodies of two friends -- nightclub doorman Michael Tardio, 35, and 31-year-old storage business owner Christopher Monson.


As they delved into the case, detectives uncovered an intriguing back story that included a Playboy cover model, a $40-million Wall Street investment ponzi scheme and an ill-fated bid by Tardio to sell as much as $700,000 worth of jewelry purchased with ill-gotten proceeds.

Tardio, a former model and nightclub doorman who moved to Los Angeles from New York in 1998, and Monson, an aspiring actor who ran a self-storage business in Culver City, were part of the Hollywood club scene, police said.

It was in that world where Tardio met Sandy Bentley, who with her twin sister, Mandy Bentley, became minor celebrities by appearing on the May 2000 cover of Playboy and dating the magazine’s founder, Hugh Hefner, living with him at his mansion in Holmby Hills in 1999 and 2000.

By the fall of 2002, Sandy Bentley was dating Tardio, whom she persuaded to quietly sell off her cache of jewels, the gift of another former boyfriend, disgraced Wall Street trader Mark Yagalla, police said.


Tardio made several efforts to sell the jewels on behalf of Bentley, who is not a suspect in the case. After those efforts failed, Tardio believed he had found a person to buy the jewelry, which was being claimed by a federally appointed court receiver in connection with the prosecution of Yagalla.

Monson, Tardio’s friend and motorcycle-racing buddy, agreed to join him on the mission, though he had misgivings about the plan, detectives said.