Hayley Orrantia is haunted by her first impression of former Marine Brandon Pelletier.
Meeting on the set of her hit ABC show The Goldbergs in October 2015, when Pelletier was part of a veteran tour group, “I found him very charming,” the actress-singer, 25, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue. “He was handsome and charismatic and able to draw the attention of the room.”
After starting a long-distance relationship with Pelletier, 32, who was also from Texas, the actress fell deeply in love — only to discover a year and a half later that he was betraying her and, she says, stole almost $9,000 through fraudulent credit card charges and bank withdrawals.
“It was heartbreaking,” she adds. “I thought we were going to get married one day.”
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To help herself heal, Orrantia began writing music. Her latest EP, The Way Out, which will be released on May 24, reflects her grieving process.
“To be honest, the more I talked about it, the less it became mine,” she says. “And I was always hoping that there would be somebody that would hear about it and go, ‘Oh, that happened to me.’ ”
The actress was alerted to Pelletier’s theft by her bank and after confronting him, she filed a police report. In December 2017, he was taken into custody in Texas and released on bond. He received four years of deferred probation. (His attorney declined to comment for this story.)
“He didn’t spend any time in jail, but he has to pay me restitution,” Orrantia says. “So I got that. I kept asking myself, ‘Why do I need to do this?’ And really it’s for myself. It’s the fact that I’ve always been a truth teller.”
Despite her loss, the actress still has faith in finding her happily ever after. “It’s taken a lot of therapy and a lot of time to reevaluate how to trust people, how to trust myself to know the difference between a person with good intentions and a person with bad intentions,” says Orrantia, whose first single “If I Don’t” comes out May 10.
She also wants to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. “These songs are my way of going, ‘Here’s what I know,’ ” she adds. ” ‘And this is where it stops.’ “