ORLANDO, Fla. - Her story seemed too good to be true.
She's a former model and a single mother who had successfully started a construction and design business from scratch. Within a few years she was landing jobs with some of the biggest companies in Central Florida.
She drove high-end cars and lived in a luxurious high-rise condominium in downtown Orlando. Her daughter was able to attend private schools.
Her success was due in part to her investors who would generously help her secure bid bonds for multi-million dollar projects. In return for their generosity, when she secured the project she would pay them back handsomely. The return on their loan would come back double and sometimes even higher.
The truth is, Tina Louise Mangiardi, the one-time President of TLM Design and Construction, Inc. could be spending years in federal prison.
Mangiardi pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and wire fraud in a plea arrangement with the U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Florida.
The agreement details a $2.5 to $7 million Ponzi scheme that took place from 2009 through 2012 throughout Central Florida.
Local 6 has also been in contact with several victims who invested in Mangiardi's scheme within the last few months.
In total, federal investigators said they have heard from at least 40 victims of the scheme who were sold on the pitch that she needed bid-bond money to secure projects with Disney, Darden and most recently Florida Hospital.
Documents detail what several victims confirm. She would ask for cash very quickly and promise to get them the return on their investment in a very short amount of time.
Mangiardi promised huge interest returns but either avoided them after defaulting on her loan or issued bad checks.
Representatives at Disney and Florida Hospital said they never heard of Mangiardi.
Darden Restaurants said TLM did a small remodeling job for them on a support facility back in 2009, but has never bid on a contract big enough to require bond money upfront.
Many of Mangiardi's victims were former business associates and most of them were men. However, several women and even close personal friends of Mangiardi said they fell victim to the con-woman.
"I trusted her with my daughter to go on vacation. I trusted her completely," said Kelly Maza, who claimed she met Mangiardi 11 years ago when their children were in elementary school.
The girls were best friends through high school so when Mangiardi came to Maza for money in January she did not hesitate.
"She knew I had money issues. She knew I was selling my possessions online to make extra cash," said Maza, who claimed the enticement of being able to double her $4,500 loan seemed like good idea.
Maza gave her the money in cash and even got her sister to invest another $10,000 with Mangiardi. The women soon realized that they had been her latest victims when they came across an online article detailing the construction con game.
"I literally threw up for 24 hours," said Maza, who asked Mangiardi for the money back almost immediately and then went to authorities when she realized she was never getting it back.
Other victims were first wooed by her seemingly professional and successful lifestyle before handing over the entirety of their savings.
"She would come in and spend two, three or four hundred dollars on a lunch," said Jessie Perez, who works as a server at a Longhorn Steakhouse that Mangiardi would frequent.
Mangiardi got to know Perez and when she heard that the young mother had a live-in partner who was in the construction business the conversations become more personal.
"When she found out about what Gina did, it become I want to bless you and the kids," she said.
Gina Travez said she does IT construction contracting, and when Mangiradi starting name dropping she started getting interested.
"She was naming people within Disney that only I would know, only people in the business would know," said Travez.
Travez said Mangiardi claimed she would help her get work on major projects.
"I am out there trying to sell my business and there she is saying I have this project with Florida Hospital, so I'm thinking this sounds great," she said.
After that she claimed a meeting was arranged at the Longhorn restaurant where Perez worked so Travez could meet with the other members of Mangiardi's team.
According to Travez, those team members included Mangiardi's sister and brother-in-law as well as someone she claimed was ‘her architect'.
The work never came for Travez, but Mangiardi's pitch for money did.
Travez and Perez decided to hand over $8,000 for a supposed bid bond for a construction project with Darden Restaurants. In return they got a $16,000 check that bounced.
Bounced checks pop up through the 8 lawsuits filed against Mangiardi and TLM Design and Construction.
Marc and Cathy Bischoff were the first victims to file a civil suit against Mangiardi after loaning her $275,000 in 2009.
They were awarded a settlement in January 2011, but court records show she still owed them more than $184,000 as of April 2011.
Cathy Bischoff said they have not been paid back any of that money yet.
She said they first met Mangiardi through a neighbor who claimed he actually had seen a return on his investment with her. They gave her the money for a bid bond project that came with a promissory note detailing a payment schedule and interest.
The Bischoffs received one partial payment of around $28,000 but soon afterward, Mangiardi defaulted on the note failing give them the remaining principal balance within 60 days.
Chris Guadagnoli gave Mangiardi $75,000 on behalf of his company Stone Tile Direct in 2010. After she gave him a bounced check, he took her to court.
He won his case, but still has not seen any money. On February 27, Judge Robert Egan issued a contempt order for Mangiardi's arrest because she has not complied with the judgement in Guadagnoli's case.
Judgements in civil suits against Mangiardi total over $1.5 million but federal investigators told Local 6 that is just a fraction of the money she has taken from investors over the years.
Despite her plea arrangement with the federal authorities being in the works for nearly a year, Mangiardi continuously denied any wrong-doing, telling Local 6 that she had everyone almost paid back and commenting very bluntly about her victims.
In text messages she wrote, "I tell these very stupid people that think if they give bad press and hurt us (when) we have a great building record they put me out of business. How are they to get paid?"
Another message from February 4 stated: "People can claim a lot of things but if Feds can't make a charge humm you think we might have some very greedy people that might need to get their lives together and stop feeding off innocent people."
Just one month later, she signed the plea agreement admitting to dozens of federal charges.
Local 6 caught up with Mangiardi Friday coming out of a hotel where she'd been staying. Sources claim she has been hopping from hotel to hotel for several months and renting high-end SUV's.
In a confrontational interview with Local 6's Mike Holfeld, Mangiardi said she "loved people" and denied stealing from anyone.
"It's all taken care of. Call Jaeger and Blankner," she said.
When the lawfirm of Jaeger and Blanker finally returned phone calls late Wednesday they confirmed that Mangiardi had just signed a plea arrangement with the U.S. Attorney's Office.
However, Local 6 has learned that Mangiardi was allegedly spinning her investment con right up until she signed the plea.
David McKinney and Mark Compton work across the street from the Auto Source Incorporated on North John Young Parkway in Orlando.
TLM Design and Construction has a permit pulled for new driveway access on the property.
McKinney and Compton said Mangiardi and her brother-in-law were very friendly during the six to eight months that the auto lot was under construction.
In late February, just two weeks before she pleaded guilty to federal charges, the men said Mangiardi convinced them to hand over a collective $5,000.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I image it was a scam," said McKinney, who has only been paid back a small portion of his investment.
When Local 6 went by Auto Source Tuesday, both Mangiardi and her brother-in-law Bruce Berray were on site despite evidence that TLM Design and Construction filed administration dissolution with the Florida Department of State's Division of Corporations a day prior.
"I don't understand how she still has a contractor's license," said Compton.
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation who regulates and issues contractors' licenses said they did not have any complaints on Mangiardi or cause to remove her license right now.
However, that is likely to change now that she has pled guilty to federal charges.
Her Initial Appearance and Arraignment set for March 20 at 10 a.m. in Orlando Courtroom 6 D before Magistrate Judge David A. Baker.
Mangiardi will be sentenced sometime in the next 75 days where a judge could send her to prison for up to 10 years.
Federal investigators are still collecting evidence against Mangiardi, and said that restitution will include all victims who continue to come forward.
Victims should contact Jeff Starnes with the Secret Service at 407-426-5911 if they have not already filed a complaint.
Mangiardi's victims have set up a support system through email as well. They are asking all victims to get in contact with them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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