The Valley News has been selected to add two journalists — a photojournalist and a climate and environment reporter — to our newsroom through Report for America, a national service program that boosts local news by harnessing community support.

Please consider donating to this effort.

Jim Kenyon: Ascutney Couple Taken for a Ride

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Published: 4/2/2017 1:06:51 AM
Modified: 4/2/2017 1:07:01 AM

With retirement on the horizon, Darlene and Wayne Johnson figured it was time to part with their classic 1973 Volkswagen Beetle. The Ascutney couple planned to put the $10,000 or so the car would fetch toward a dream home in warmer climes.

But seven months after dropping off their Bug for consignment at a classic and antique car dealership in Nashua, the Johnsons still haven’t seen a penny.

As for their prized vehicle? It’s nowhere to be found — although there has been an internet sighting.

What happened?

I’ll start at the beginning. In 2010, the Johnsons, responding to a Craigslist advertisement, purchased the VW for $900. It was far from road-ready, but “tinkering with cars is a hobby of mine,” Wayne said. “My buddies all had muscle cars (growing up), but I loved Volkswagens. I guess that was the hippie side of me.”

After working the second shift at Dartmouth College’s power plant, he’d arrive home around midnight and head straight for the garage. In a matter of six months, he rebuilt the engine, replaced the wiring and put in a new steel frame, among other things.

“Wayne put a lot of sweat equity into that car,” said Darlene.

After having the VW painted metallic blue, the couple enjoyed bopping around town in their “new” wheels and displaying Wayne’s handiwork at antique car shows.

Wayne, who has worked at Dartmouth for 25 years, intends to retire in 2018, after he turns 62. Wayne and Darlene, who have been married for 31 years, both grew up in the Upper Valley and raised their two children here. But they’re looking forward to a change in scenery — particularly in winter months. They’ve bought five acres near the Ozark Mountains in southwest Missouri.

Last summer, they advertised the Bug on Craigslist, apparently catching the attention of a car salesman at a Nashua dealership called Dusty Old Cars. It sells vehicles on a consignment basis, taking possession of cars from their owners and then going about finding buyers.

The salesman appeared confident that he could arrange a sale that would allow the Johnsons to pocket $10,000. Anything above that amount would go to the dealership.

The Johnsons drove to the dealership to check it out. Wayne was escorted around a giant warehouse in a golf cart. The warehouse teemed with 400 classic vehicles. Mercedes, Rolls Royce, Jaguar — Dusty Old Cars had them all.

After returning home (without turning over their VW), Wayne surfed the internet. He found newspaper stories and TV news clips that described the business in glowing terms.

In early September, the Johnsons drove their VW back to Nashua. After Wayne signed some paperwork, they handed over the keys.

Months went by without any word. Truth be told, the Johnsons had more pressing matters on their minds. In December, Darlene, 59, was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery.

The VW took a back seat.

In early February, a friend called to say that the VW had vanished from Dusty Old Car’s website.

Wayne called and asked for the salesman he had dealt with. Apparently, he no longer worked there. Another person at the dealership told Wayne that the car had just been sold. They’d receive a check when the paperwork was completed in a few weeks.

In early March, the check still hadn’t arrived. Paperwork takes time, the dealership told Wayne.

It sounded fishy. Wayne’s internet search turned up a story in the Nashua Telegraph about Dusty Old Cars having filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which frees a company from the threat of creditors’ lawsuits while it reorganizes its finances, in February.

According to the Telegraph, more than 100 former customers had filed complaints against Dusty Old Cars and its owner, Stephan Condodemetraky, with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, which had opened a criminal investigation into the matter. James Boffetti, senior assistant attorney general, told me Thursday that the investigation is ongoing.

A March 21 creditors’ meeting at the federal building in Manchester drew more than 100 people, including the Johnsons, who told stories of the “cars they assert Condodemetraky stole, or used to cheat them out of money,” the Telegraph reported. A Massachusetts man claimed Condodemetraky had made more than $50,000 off his classic car collection, but he wound up with less than $3,000.

“Money comes hard to us,” Wayne told me, “but we’re small potatoes compared to what some people lost.”

At the creditors’ meeting, Condodemetraky reportedly said that everyone owed money would get repaid.

On Thursday, the court-appointed attorney overseeing the bankruptcy proceedings asked the judge to convert the case to Chapter 7, which usually leads to liquidation of a business. The Johnsons have their doubts that they’ll ever see their Bug again, or any money from its sale.

They recently found what looks to be their VW on eBay. A “Sold” sign was splashed across the photo. They called Nashua police. An officer who looked into the matter confirmed that Dusty Old Cars had sold it, but he had no further information.

Meanwhile, Wayne has returned to his garage on nights and weekends. This time, he’s restoring a 1974 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia.

He might have lost his Bug, but not his passion for tinkering with old VWs.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2020 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy