By "48 Hours Mystery" producer Greg Fisher
At the heart of the LAPD double-homicide investigation featured in this week's "48 Hours Mystery: Playing with Fire" are nearly $1 million worth of jewelry ripped-off when the federal government seized the assets of Wall Street Ponzi-schemer Mark Yagalla.
Police believe that Yagalla's girlfriend, Playboy model Sandy Bentley, and her next boyfriend, nightclub doorman Michael Tardio, ripped off the jewels and planned to sell them for cash on the black market.
Tardio had no experience as a criminal and this foray into the Los Angeles underworld resulted in his murder and the murder of his best friend, Chris Monson.
The two were presumably executed when they went to sell the jewels by the person(s) who they mistakenly thought were going to pay them $1 million. Their bodies were dumped in an upscale North Hollywood neighborhood inside the burning, rented Mercedes SUV they drove that night.
Those jewels disappeared. While cops assume they have been broken down, melted, then sold in bits and pieces, "48 Hours" has some exclusive photos for your review. The LAPD is interested in hearing from anybody with any information about the jewels.
It turns out Sandy Bentley had been living in a $3 million, luxurious Las Vegas mansion which her wealthy Wall Street boyfriend, Mark Yagalla, had purchased for her. Bentley lived a lavish lifestyle with a $100,000-per-month spending account paid for by Yagalla.
In addition to the spending account, Yagalla bought Bentley a non-stop stream of expensive gifts including a $500,000 Chopard watch and a $150,000 replica of the necklace actress Julia Roberts wears in the film "Pretty Woman."
Bentley's Vegas home was filled with treasure purchased with Yagalla's ill-gotten gains when federal agents seized it.
Here is a copy of just one typical monthly American Express bill from Mark Yagalla, the tab: $707,975.21.
A bill that Yagalla would pay with the hard earned money stolen from his unsuspecting clients. He spent more than $600,000 and Bentley spent $103,989.68.
Yagalla seemed to have liked to fly private jets because he ran up nearly $500,000 on the card at Exxon Jet Aviation in New Jersey. He unloaded $25,000 presumably on toys at FAO Schwarz one day.
The Ponzi scammer charged up nearly $60,000 at the Four Seasons in N.Y. that month.
He seems to have had a nice vacation at the Westin on the Kohala Coast in Hawai, spending $8,000.
Although it seems unlikely Yagalla would take such a trip unless accompanied by a beautiful woman, by the looks of Sandy Bentley's bill, she was not there with him. In fact, about the same time she was doing her tanning at a beauty spa in Las Vegas.
According to her bill, Bentley like to shop: dropping $1,000 at Chanel in Beverly Hills, nearly $6,000 on men's clothing at Versace in Las Vegas on the same day; then the very next day, spending $1,000 at Chanel in Las Vegas.
One day she might spend more than $9,000 on clothes at Baracci, or another day more than $9,000 at trendy Fred Segal in Los Angeles, then off to New York to spend nearly $6,000 at the exclusive St. John Boutique. One day she spent $1,000 on women's accessories from Nude Inc. in Los Angeles.
There is a charge for a $3,000 waterbed, plenty of fancy restaurants like Morton's and Yamashiro's ,which overlooks Los Angeles from the Hollywood Hills.
There are also plenty of charges at the Garden of Eden nightclub at the time of the murder more than 8 years ago that was the hottest destination in Hollywood filled with a celebrity clientele.
That is where Bentley spent time with her sister and the live-in boyfriend she shared with twin sister Mandy - Playboy Hugh Hefner. Another one of Hef's live-in girlfriends, Izabella St. James, told "48 Hours" that the Garden of Eden was a regular destination for Hef and a limousine full of girlfriends.
Hollywood Madame Michelle Braun, a friend of Bentley's who supplied Yagalla with a steady stream of escorts, frequented the club and met many of her wealthy clients there.Video: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam
Yagalla also frequented the Garden, and Bentley's boyfriend, Tardio, was the doorman there. In fact, police believe Tardio found the people at the Garden of Eden who ended up killing him over the jewelry deal.
Anyone with information about this case is urged to call teh LAPD at 1-877-LAPD-24-7 | 1-877-527-3247.