A Classic Con?

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We use one of our secret cameras in our latest investigation into possible consumer fraud and complaints about a company that makes big bucks restoring cars.

The company is called City Classic Cars, but some customers say it’s really a classic con job.

We’re going undercover in Hockley, Texas just northeast of Houston, at a place called City Classic Cars.

They’re folks in the business of restoring old automobiles to look brand new.

We’ve set up a meeting to talk about bringing back new life to this car, a 1956 Porsche 356. When fully restored it sells for a quarter of a million dollars or more. We’re greeted by Matilda Johnson, the wife of the owner.

“We build cars. We don’t buy everything pre-manufactured. So, we create,” claims Matilda Johnson.

We already knew what Matilda looked like because we have one of her mugshots.

She’s been accused over the years of bank fraud in South Carolina, indicted for felony theft in Georgia. Now she’s a classic car expert, the chief experience officer here.

“Everything is done in our company. We do not outsource anything,” states Matilda.

Classic cars won’t quote you a flat rate for this restoration experience, they charge by the hour.

“So, our standard rate for labor is $115 per hour plus parts and materials,” states Matilda.

“You’re looking between 4000 and 6000 hours for a full restoration,” said Matilda.

“How much,” asked Andrea Palacio.

“$690,000. Which I knew that answer,” clarifies Matilda.

We are initially told we could meet the owner without plucking down a $25,000 deposit. And we don’t see classic cars number two-person, Project Manager Carol Sosa.

We have three of her mugshots. Sosa has convictions for cocaine and prostitution. She was also charged with felony fraud in 2016.

So, Matilda fills us in on City Classic Cars experience.

“And our builder has been doing this for 30 plus years,” said Matilda.

Andrea Palacio asked, “Who has?”

Matilda replies, “Mr. Johnson.”

“He’s been doing cars for 30 years?” asked Andrea Palacio.

“Yes,” clarified Matilda.

Meet Sabra Johnson, the man behind city classic cars. He’s a big fan of spreading the word on social media.

“I absolutely love restoring cars. It’s my absolute passion,” said Sabra Johnson in a social media post.

Business must be pretty good. This is Johnson’s 1.7-million-dollar ranch up in Magnolia. Upon closer look at the court records, you’ll see it’s in foreclosure.

We don’t meet him in person, but he does grace us with a conversation over Zoom.

“In our shop client is the CEO of their financial process,” said Sabra.

“So, you always reserve the right to stop,” continues Sabra.

For most of his adult life Sabra Johnson has promoted himself as a pastor. A man of God.

“We are called as a church to reach, to pastor, to connect with individuals who don’t understand pastoring,” said Sabra in a video.

His church, City Of Faith, hasn’t been in business for years.

A check of state records show the Johnsons have started multiple non-profits both in Georgia and in Houston over the past ten years.

Sabra says he is a motivational speaker for hire, an author of spiritual guidance books and a self-proclaimed expert at restoring old cars.

“You’ve been doing this for 30 years?” asked Andrea Palacio.

Sabra replied, “Yeah, I’m considered one of the best in the entire planet.”

But after looking at court records in multiple states it’s fair to ask if Sabra Johnson is little more than a classic con man.

At the Tour of Hope Ministry in Grovetown, Georgia, the pastor Sabra used social security numbers of people who applied to work for him to get credit cards in their name.

He was indicted for wire fraud by a federal grand jury back in 2006. Court records show Sabra and Matilda fled to Houston to hide from the FBI warrant.

Sabra was arrested in Houston in 2008. A judge revoked his bond four months later saying he continued his criminal activities. He was sentenced to 66 months in Beaumont federal prison.

Then while still on probation, Harris County Sheriffs arrested Johnson again on a felony fraud charge.

And there’s no public records in either Texas or Georgia that show Sabra Johnson working on classic cars until he opened City Classic Cars and Restoration Group six years ago.

Here’s Johnson a practically pushed Chase Tadlock’s 1972 Chevy into oncoming traffic. Chase says he had paid his bill in full, but got little or no work at all.

“I said, hey, what you estimate this truck to be completed at? They said around 50-60 thousand. Here I am, $61,000 later and my trucks in parts and pieces,” said Chase Tadlock.

He left one of the many scathing reviews we found online about City Classic Cars.

“The owner is a lying conman,” wrote Chase Tadlock.  

“The sign in the office states pray without ceasing. Which is a great motto if you are a client of this company,” wrote Gerald P.

“He sabotaged the car,” expressed Betty Smiley.

Chase got his truck back but this woman, Betty Smiley, it sure looks like her 1978 Monte Carlo is being held hostage at Classic Cars as we speak.

It’s a very special automobile. It’s her late husband’s dream car.

“My husband bought this Monte Carlo fresh off the showroom floor. He fell in love with it, and he always cherished that car,” recalled Betty Smiley.

A favorite picture was the three of them together.

“It was just a nice day and he wanted to take a picture of it with both of us on the car,” continued Smiley.

The ‘78 Monte Carlo was going to be a gift to his daughters once it was restored but dad passed away suddenly and never got the chance to fix it up.

“It was always on my heart to do what he wanted to do,” expressed Betty.

So Betty got the transmission rebuilt then the mechanic recommended City Classic Cars.

Sabra got the Monte Carlo in May of 2022, sixteen months ago.

Betty was told this restoration would cost 60 thousand dollars.

10 thousand down, they would be updated in part through Facebook posts.

Trouble started with confusing requests for money, not sent to Betty but her daughter, Roiesha.

“It was like we want 20,000. No, we want 10,000, 20,000, 24,000. And this is all within a few weeks of each other,” recalled Roiesha.

December last year, Matilda texts betty that her car had been primed with several pictures of the work so far. Eight days later comes an invoice for another 24 grand. Betty pays the invoice days later but then communication stops for six months.

Then listen to the man of God on the phone in September when the Smileys finally told him to stop working and return their car.

“We are looking to you for an update on the vehicle,” said Roiesha.

Sabra Replies, “What do you think I am? A Mechanic? I am not some mechanic. I have a hundred projects at any given moment in time. I’m one of the largest restoration shops in the whole damn world.”

Betty said, “you’re going to curse, and your wife said you were a pastor?”

“He said I’m a multimillionaire. You’re going to respect my business,” recalls Betty.

Betty then goes to Channel 2 for help. She couldn’t believe the car she saw on TV. The engine was missing.

“He sabotaged the car. If you look at the pictures that we took in December and look at the car when Channel 2 went out to do the interview. You can see a difference. A big difference,” states Betty.

“I was there for five months, I think, when I finally started realizing something was really, really suspicious,” said Douglas Hamrick.

Douglas Hamrick used to work at City Classic Cars, but as a guy with restoration experience he didn’t stay.

Andrea Palacio asked, “Do they know what they’re doing?”

“Not at all. Everything is done, the processes aren’t done right. Like for example, they would have me primer and paint over rust,” recalls Hamrick.

Douglas accuses Sabra’s company of using a strategy called nail in the casket.

When customers start to question what’s going on, they tear the car apart.

“I can say I’ve seen at least 5 times there when they start calling and saying, hey how’s my car coming, they’ll have a bunch of guys jump on it and break it all down. Take the engine out and pull the chassis off of it and pull all the doors. It’s a nail in the casket. It’s stuck there until it gets done,” states Hamrick.

“When I got the car back from City Classic, it was leaking every fluid that it can leak,” recalls Jack Montes.

Jack Montes says he wasted thousands of dollars trying to get his 1964 Chevy Impala’s engine rebuilt. He dropped the car off in February 2022 after working with Project Manager Carol Sosa.

“And she said from experience, it’s going to be around $7,000 and it’s going to take about two months,” recalls Montes.

He got the estimate in writing, put 55 hundred down but then communication stopped for 8 months!

“And they never even sent me a picture that the motor was out of the car. When I asked to go see it, they wouldn’t let me on the property,” states Montes.

When it was time to pick up his car, instead of owing two grand they claimed he owed seven thousand more.  The price had jumped to 12 thousand dollars.

“There wasn’t one single text or email or phone call saying this price is moving up because of this,” said Montes.

Jack paid just to get his car back, but he left a one star review on the Better Business Bureau website.

So, we went to Classic Cars to confront Sabra Johnson.

We knew Sabra was inside, our investigator had watched him drive in just moments before.

“I want to talk to you, first of all, about why you’re holding the Smiley car hostage,” asked Wayne Dolcefino.

Sabra replied, “What’s your next question?”

“With your criminal history, why would anyone trust the car to you,” asks Wayne.

 Sabra continues, “Uh – I’m one of the biggest builders in the country, that’s why. And one of the best. What’s your next question?”

Sabra Johnson has been sued at least four times for screwing up people’s cars and or overcharging them, including a suit filed over a 1967 Camaro.

The estimate was to be about 75-thousand dollars start to finish. The bill was 236 thousand dollars for an unfinished car.

“Man, if your money ain’t long enough don’t come to me. Only the elite come,” exclaimed Sabra.

And that’s why these customers say when you go to City Classic Cars, you’re heading into a city classic con.

“I mean you’re going to get scammed when going to city classics,” said Chase Tadlock.

Chase never got the seat of his truck back when it was pushed to the curb that day. And the Smileys say sabra has threatened to put a lien on Betty’s car.

To this day, Sabra refuses to give back the Monte Carlo and he hasn’t given her an updated invoice either.

“As of today, we’re in the process of what amounts a confidential settlement agreement that includes no money being owed,” states Attorney Brandon Riley.

“They wanted my mother to sign a gag order to not speak to media about any of this, which she declined,” says Roiesha.

“We’re not interested in interviewing with you. There’s nothing we can share with you,” said Sabra in a phone conversation with Wayne Dolcefino.

Wayne replied, “I’m just trying to give you a shot, okay? I’m just trying to give you a chance so that when we do our broadcast that—”

“I got a Glock that’s sitting high and looking low, brother. I don’t need a chance to do anything,” replied Sabra.

You’ve got a Glock sitting high and looking low? Threats, Mr. Johnson, they don’t work with us. Besides you’re a convicted felon, you shouldn’t even have a gun.

“I mean I feel betrayed. I feel honestly sick to my stomach,” expressed Chase Tadlock.

“Are they just scamming customers to make money?” asked Andrea Palacio.

Douglas Hamrick replied, “that’s what I wholeheartedly think it is.”

“Deceptive. That’s the word that comes to mind. They’re very deceptive,” expressed Roeisha.

Andrea askes, “How about criminal?”

Roiesha said, “Absolutely.”

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