- Associated Press - Friday, February 18, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Almost a decade after the bodies of two men were found in a burned Mercedes SUV, police detectives said Friday they need the public’s help in cracking the case, which has ties to designer jewelry, a Wall Street Ponzi scheme and a former Playboy cover girl.

The case dates back to the early morning of Sept. 2, 2002, when firefighters doused a vehicle that was ablaze in the Studio City neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. In the SUV, they found the bodies of nightclub doorman Michael Tardio, 35, and his close friend Christopher Monson, 31.

Both had been shot to death.

The men were well-known in the Hollywood club scene. Detectives said Friday they hoped former customers of the Garden of Eden nightclub, where Tardio worked, would come forward with information. A $75,000 reward was being offered in the case.

“We believe the nucleus of this case is around the Garden of Eden,” Detective Dennis English said.

Officials remained tight-lipped about why the investigation had stalled for so long, but English said the men were likely killed by someone to whom they were trying to sell jewelry.

The jewelry had been in the possession of Sandy Bentley, Tardio’s girlfriend at the time, who became a minor celebrity after appearing on the cover of the May 2000 Playboy with her twin sister.

Bentley previously dated Mark Yagalla, a Wall Street wonder kid who in 2002 pleaded guilty to securities fraud and was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison for stealing $50 million from clients.

Yagalla lavished the money on girlfriends and expensive living, including spending more than $6 million on Bentley, buying her six cars, three Rolex watches, a ruby and platinum necklace, other jewelry, furs and a Las Vegas mansion.

English said Tardio persuaded Bentley to try to sell off her jewels, even though a court-appointed receiver seeking to recoup some losses for Yagalla’s victims had demanded that Bentley turn over the gifts.

It was not known how Tardio was trying to find buyers for the jewelry, but “word of mouth would go around, especially at a place like the Garden of Eden,” English said.

The jewels included custom-made pieces and an item from high-end designer Fred Leighton. English said the jewels Tardio and Monson were trying to sell were worth at least $750,000.

The TV show “CBS News 48 Hours Mystery,” is featuring the case in an upcoming episode, English said.

Bentley has since “moved on with her life,” he said.

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