BROOKSVILLE — One night last summer, local business owner Gus Guadagnino stopped at Jerry's Place, a popular Spring Hill bar.
A Hernando School Board candidate at the time, Guadagnino wasn't inside for long when someone came in with startling news: his Infiniti sport utility vehicle was on fire.
The man authorities say torched the vehicle pleaded no contest last week to one count of arson. Anthony Thomas Tarduno III, 38, who has served two stints in state prison for arson, is headed back, this time for five years.
The sentence is slightly longer than the minimum of 59 months that sentencing guidelines called for, based on his prior convictions, said Assistant State Attorney Tamesis Cruz.
The plea was in Tarduno's best interest, considering his criminal record and the fact that authorities had video footage of the incident, said Michael Lamberti, Tarduno's public defender.
"If he'd been convicted with a prior record, the result could have been much worse," Lamberti said.
Arson of a conveyance carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
On July 19, Guadagnino parked his Infiniti in an alley behind the bar on Spring Hill Drive. Video surveillance released by the Sheriff's Office showed a man coming out of the bar about 11:10 p.m., walking over to a trash bin and pulling out a bag filled with Pepsi cans, pieces of paper and other bits of trash.
The man stuck the bag of garbage around the right rear tire and lit it. He remained for a few minutes until the smoldering bag caught fire. Then he left.
The SUV was a total loss.
After releasing the video, the Sheriff's Office received several tips implicating Tarduno. Detectives learned that he had been drinking at the Battered Mug on Mariner Boulevard that evening, then walked to Jerry's Place and started drinking shortly before Guadagnino arrived.
Tarduno was arrested at a home on Wiltshire Avenue in Spring Hill. The home, listed as Tarduno's address, is about a mile north of Jerry's Place. He admitted to drinking at both bars, but claimed he had blacked out during the time frame of the fire, officials said.
After the arrest, Guadagnino wracked his brain trying to remember if he knew Tarduno and why he would want to destroy his property. The semiretired owner of Joni Industries and Seaboard Pencil Co., who went on to win the District 4 School Board seat, couldn't come up with anything.
Lamberti said he never asked Tarduno if he knew Guadagnino. Cruz said Tarduno made some statements that indicated he did not.
"There are some psychiatric issues that the family brought out from way back," Lamberti said.
Records show he was convicted on an arson charge in Hernando County in 1995 and sentenced to a year in prison. He was convicted of the same crime again in 1999, also in Hernando, and sentenced to five years. He was released in 2003.
Later, Tarduno was convicted of burglary with assault and served about five years in prison. He was released in early 2011.
Tarduno will be responsible to pay whatever restitution he can to Guadagnino's insurance company.
"I think he's a career arsonist and in five years he's going to do it again," Guadagnino said when asked about the sentence. "Obviously, he doesn't get reformed."
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes and @hernandotimes on Twitter.