JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. — John Bragg II is behind bars more than nine months after law enforcement first started looking into him for running a car restoration scam.
Bragg was arrested in North Carolina Saturday, nearly 800 miles from Johnson County where the investigation initially began.
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office said it has more than 30 reports from people who said Bragg promised to restore their vehicle, took their money and then did not do the work.
Darci Bell said she is one of those victims. She and her husband paid Bragg, who told them his name was JB, a $14,000 down payment to do a full restoration on their 1965 Volkswagen bus. At the time, Bragg operated ‘JB Bugs Trick Truck N Rod of Indy’ in Whiteland.
She said Bragg came out to their home in Bedford to talk about the work he could do. He came with several good recommendations and told them about how he had gotten into restoration work.
”He was a super nice guy,” Bell said.
Bragg picked it up the Bells’ bus in November of 2021 with full confidence from the Bells that he would do a good job. It wasn’t till excuses started coming instead of pictures of their bus that Bell’s suspicion grew.
”It kept going on, months after months after months,” Bell said.
Just a few months after Bragg had first picked up their VW bus, Bell said she saw it in the back of a picture from Bragg’s new shop in Chattanooga. She said they talked with Bragg and he explained his shop in Chattanooga was where the best workers for her bus were.
Bell said the excuses continued for a few more months before they finally decided to break their contract with Bragg and get whatever money they could and their bus back. Bell said after saying he would bring the bus back, Bragg never showed. Eventually, the couple went down to Chattanooga and picked their bus up, in the same condition it had been in when Bragg first took it.
That’s when Bell said she started to find others who claimed to have been scammed by Bragg. She started a Facebook group that now has more than 200 members.
”It all just exploded and there were so many comments on that post saying basically what he did to us he did to a hundred other people,” Bell said.
Bell said she’s talked to dozens of victims of Bragg and believes there were more than 100. She heard multiple different stories of different names and backgrounds Bragg had used.
”He was using different names, it’s not like you could have just googled his name at the beginning. We did that, you found nothing,” she said.
Bryan Ferry said he’s one of the other victims of Bragg.
”Great reviews on Facebook from the VW club,” said Ferry. “I reached out to him, super legit guy it seemed like.”
Ferry was looking for someone to restore his old VW bus he bought back in the 90s.
”I bought this thing in 92′ in college,” Ferry said. “I’ve driven it to Woodstock, I’ve driven it all over the country.”
Ferry said Bragg came to get the bus in May of 2021 and that was the last time he saw it for more than a year, in picture or in person. Ferry said Bragg told him he preferred not to send pictures because it took away from the big reveal, but Bragg was always responsive and acted like they were making progress.
Mid-June, Ferry said Bragg told him it was time for the big reveal. But, when Ferry pulled up to Bragg’s shop, the gate out front was chained and there were eviction notices on the doors and windows. His bus was nowhere to be seen. Ferry said Bragg was texting him that day about the bus being ready, but that quickly stopped.
”As soon as I said, ‘Where’s my bus’? it [messages] went from blue to green, so he obviously shut off the phone or did something.”
Ferry said he was heartbroken at first, thinking his bus had been stolen. Luckily, Bragg’s old landlord helped him find his bus at another lot he knew Bragg used. The bus was missing a few parts but in the same condition Ferry had last seen it in.
Both Ferry and Bell went to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.
”When we first heard his name, it was a big issue for us,” said Major Damian Katt, the head of investigations for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. “During the course of the investigation we had, I want to say, 30-plus victims that we came into contact with.”
Bragg was nowhere to be found in the early parts of the investigation. At the time, authorities knew Brag was facing theft and fraud charges in Indiana and Florida, but now there is a chance that list could have grown.
”We actually learned of people outside the state that were also reaching out to use who had been defrauded or scammed or attempted,” Katt said.
Katt said they believe Bragg scammed or attempted to scam people in Indiana, Florida, Tennessee, West Virginia and North Carolina.
In December, their search expanded to West Virginia. There, investigators found Bragg’s partner at the time and talked to Bragg on the phone.
“We let him know why we were there, we had warrants for him and he let us know he was going to turn himself in,” Katt said. “He did not, shocking.”
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office investigators got their big break the first Friday of March when a tip came in from a North Carolina man. Katt said the man hired Bragg to do some work for him but his story wasn’t adding up, the man did some research online and called police.
Katt spoke with the tipster and Beaufort, North Carolina police department that next morning and by 9 a.m., Katt had a picture of Bragg in handcuffs.
”We were all excited because we had several detectives that were working hard,” he said. Obviously, with 30 victims and hearing the stories and we’re talking thousands of dollars for each of these victims.”
Katt said they’re very grateful to everyone who helped catch Bragg.
”There were a lot of agencies with their hands in this to make this happen and we couldn’t be happier,” Katt said.
It was a big relief for both Ferry and Bell, as well.
”He can’t do this to anybody else, thank God,” Ferry said.
”It’s a huge relief to know that he’s actually sitting behind bars right now instead of scamming someone else,” Bell said.
While talking to other apparent victims of Bragg’s scam, Bell said she had dozens fill out a form with how much money they had lost.
”Just the money alone was well over $350,000,” Bell said.
Others said Bragg did do good work for them. Katt said Bragg was running a business and actually doing the work he promised for a time.
”He had a couple shops and was doing good work,” Katt said. “He had people saying ‘Hey, I got this done and it was a good job.”
Which makes it even easier to fall for a scam.
”I’ve been thinking about this, how we could have avoided this and I don’t know that we could have,” Bell said. “I mean I had several recommendations for him.”
Both Bell and Ferry said they felt like they had done their due diligence.
Katt said sometimes you need to go above and beyond what you feel is necessary.
”Check with the BBB and then talk to references and see how long this guy has been in business,” Katt said. “Unfortunately, for our victims, our guy was doing work and he was doing good work.”
Bell and her husband ended up losing their $14,000 initial down payment to Bragg, but they’re just happy he’s been arrested.
”It made my day Saturday morning when I got that text, it was a huge relief but I can’t get too excited because this is a long process,” Bell said.
Ferry actually ended up getting his $7,500 deposit back because he paid with his credit card. He also found someone else to do the work on his 71′ VW bus, he’s excited to pick it up this week.
Bell said it took them awhile to trust again but they eventually found a shop in Illinois to do the work on their bus. They’re looking forward to the finished product.
Bragg will now be extradited back to Johnson County.