By the time he was 23, J. Nicholas Bryant was living a version of the cartoonishly opulent lifestyle he always wanted.
Social media posts from that time depict the bright-smiling Texan riding private jets stocked with vodka, enjoying steak dinners on yachts, and lounging in five-star hotel rooms.
Bryant was originally from a small city dependent on the oil industry, and friends told The Daily Beast that he was popular but always seemed to be in trouble. But by the start of 2020, just before the pandemic struck, his posts took a content pivot to make it appear like he had struck gold.
“It looked like he was living the high life,” Hayden Eggemeyer, one of his childhood friends, said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “And all of us from home were just watching this unfold in awe, asking each other how he was doing it.”
This month, federal prosecutors gave Eggemeyer and his friends an answer: Bryant fleeced at least 50 people in an elaborate scheme that involved booking goods and services and then sending fake payments through online payment platforms. On Nov. 9, Bryant pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in a scheme prosecutors have described as reminiscent of some of the most infamous scammers in American history. He is now awaiting sentencing, where he faces up to 20 years in prison.
If he’s hoping for leniency, he may still have work to do when it comes to demonstrating something resembling contrition.
In his first time speaking out about his swindling spree, Bryant told The Daily Beast via jail-house text messages and a phone call from Lubbock County Detention Center that the allegations against him “are pretty much true.”
“I took private jets and stayed at the most expensive Airbnbs and hotels. Went deep sea fishing and toured everything that was possible,” Bryant said this week, noting that he has a lot of remorse over his actions. “I bought and drove five different high-end cars.”
“By far my most favorite trip was to [Turks] and Caicos. I spent two weeks on the island from fishing to sailing yachts. I stayed in a $30,000-a-night house. It was amazing,” he added.
In all, prosecutors estimate Bryant stole approximately $1.5 million in the fraud scheme. But it wasn’t just businesses that were subjected to Bryant’s schemes, after leaving some hometown acquaintances feeling jilted after interactions.
“I got him an Airbnb. I sent over money through Venmo and Cash App,” the woman, who did not wish to be identified for her own personal safety, told The Daily Beast. “I helped because I know what it’s like to be in a tough financial situation. But now I just feel so gross that I got conned.”
The woman said that for about a year, she sent Bryant over $500 after meeting him on Facebook. She said she started sending money after having lengthy conversations about their upbringing—in which Bryant would lament about his struggles of being “the son of a wealthy oil businessman”—and his eventual admission that he needed funds because he was cut off.
The woman sent The Daily Beast a Venmo statement and several bank statements to prove that she had sent Bryant money since at least July 2021. The last time she sent him $100 through Cashapp was on Nov. 24—shortly before his Dec. 11 arrest.
Bryant did not respond to the woman’s allegations, but noted that “she wanted me to come to her hometown and see her” and that she “said she would pay for my expenses.” He said he “planned to see her but I ultimately could not get a jet company to [take me]” so he never met it.
What the now 26-year-old Bryant has admitted is that, between 2020 and 2021, he would use online platforms like QuickBooks to send payment confirmations without ever intending to pay up. It would take days, however, before vendors and businesses would learn that Bryant had canceled that transaction before the money was sent through. By then, Bryant told The Daily Beast, he had already enjoyed the jet ride or the lavish excursion and vanished.
To add an air of legitimacy, the feds say, Bryant assumed various fake names and backgrounds. Most of the time, Bryant told The Daily Beast, he would assert that he “was the son [of an] oil tycoon.” Bryant also convinced at least one company that he had a “secretary” who was handling his finances and wiring the money. (Bryant has since admitted that he had no secretary.)
“I knew how to play the part,” Bryant said in a Wednesday phone call with a laugh.
In the end, prosecutors say, Bryant took at least 17 private jet flights, stayed in numerous high-end hotels, spent half a day on a 90-foot yacht with friends where he demanded a steak and champagne dinner, and obtained five luxury cars worth $500,000.
Bryant also convinced a developer to start building a home with a pool and workshop worth $980,000—and never paid.
“This defendant would be well on his way to becoming Lubbock’s Anna Delvey [Sorokin] or Frank Abagnale,” U.S. Attorney Chad E. Meacham said in a statement about Bryant’s plea.
Bryant told The Daily Beast that while he thought it was “crazy they are comparing me to both” Sorokin and Abagnale—he feels like he’s got the notorious swindlers beat.
“My story might be more wild than theirs! I can almost guarantee it!” he added.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Sorokin slammed the comparison to Bryant, saying “it’s bad faith and poor judgment for a prosecutor to use my name to try and make their own cases.”
“It shows that justice isn’t always judicial,” she added.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office Northern District of Texas declined to comment on the case, noting that Bryant’s sentencing was still pending. Bryant’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
Childhood friends say that growing up in the Midland, Texas area, Bryant had a way of talking himself out of any jam.
“He always seemed to have friends and talk about how his father was in the oil business,” one high-school friend who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of personal safety, told The Daily Beast. “But he was always a piece of shit too. There was just always something with him.”
One example of Bryant’s “charismatic behavior that always seemed to get him out of a bind,” Eggemeyer said, occurred when they were about 16 years old. He said and a few others were in a car that Bryant was driving—and a cop pulled them over for speeding.
The only snag, Eggemeyer said, was the case of beers in the back of the truck.
“When the cop came to the side of the truck and asked him for his name and without pause, Nick just gave him a fake name—just gave him the name of someone we kind of knew,” he added. “The whole time I was just in the back of the truck freaking out, knowing that we had beers in the car. But Nick didn’t flinch.”
About a year later, in 2013, local news reports state that Bryant was arrested on a forgery of a financial instrument charge. It was not clear what became of the case.
By 2019 it appears that Bryant had run into money troubles. Lubbock Judge Jim Hansen, who is the Justice of the Peace for Precinct 1, told The Daily Beast this week that during that year his office received at least two cases in connection with Bryant—an eviction and debt case from the Texas Tech Federal Credit Union.
That July, the bank filed a debt claim noting that Bryant had a “negative checking account” and was seeking damages of about $571.86. The case was eventually dismissed.
A few months later, on Oct. 24, 2019, Bryant’s luxury apartment complex—Bella Villas—filed an eviction proceeding against him for “failing to pay first month’s rent” and owing more than $1,400. Hanson ruled in the apartment’s favor on Nov. 21, 2019, ordering that Bryant leave the unit and pay back “costs in the amount of $116.00, back rent in the amount of $1494.53, with interest at the rate of 5.25 percent compounded annually.”
By the end of 2019, Eggemeyer said that he returned home and was looking for work during the off-season—and reached out to Bryant about potentially working with him in the oil industry.
“Nick had been already posting Snapchats with all of his money, and I had nothing to do. I was in need of money, and he said I could work with him,” Eggemeyer said.
Eggemeyer said that after filling out what he believed was legitimate onboarding paperwork to begin working with a real company called GPS international—and even taking a safety course for working on oil rigs—he worked alongside Bryant.
“Just monitoring the [oil] wells. We worked the nights,” he explained.
Throughout that time, Eggemeyer said that he repeatedly asked for payment, but was met with excuses and requests to pay for other expenses that would be “eventually covered by the company.” Eggemeyer said that about a month into his stint at GPS international, he called the company to ask for information about his paycheck—and learned that he was not an actual employee at the oil company. (GPS International did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
“I still don’t get why he would do that. We were friends,” Eggemeyer said. “If he wasn’t a scumbag, he could have been very successful. He is so convincing.”
For his part, Bryant told The Daily Beast he feels “terrible about how things happened” with Eggemeyer—whom he called “a good childhood friend”—and admitted that “Hayden was a victim of my crimes.”
He did not, however, go into detail about the scam, just saying that Eggemeyer worked for him while he was “running an oil company” that is part of the “federal paperwork I plead guilty [to].” The company, however, “came to a halt when numerous workers and service companies did not get payment [sic] and investors did not get returns.”
“I was pocketing all proceeds and using [them] to fund my lavish lifestyle,” Bryant said. “I was 23 making around 60k a month.”
Another woman, who only agreed to speak under the condition of anonymity, told The Daily Beast that in the summer of 2020, Bryant gave her son a $5,000 check that he immediately cashed. But because her son’s bank account was connected to hers, the woman said that she was dragged into it when Bryant’s check eventually bounced—and she was out of thousands of dollars.
Bryant told The Daily Beast that in the “spring of 2020,” the woman’s son asked him for a job—and he offered him work on the construction of his Midland home.
“I told him he could run some equipment for me and I would pay him to get out of a pinch he was in,” Bryant said, adding that his friend worked “for about two weeks and then we took a two-week long trip via private jets to Trenton, NJ, Lexington KY, Nashville, TN, and South Padre Island, TX.”
Bryant said that before the trip, he gave the woman’s son the $5,000 check “for payment” and that he cashed it himself. But because of the ongoing investigation into his oil company, his bank account was frozen—and the check bounced. He admitted that he never paid back the $5,000.
In Facebook messages between Bryant obtained by The Daily Beast, the woman asks him to send her at least half of the money “for the NSF check you wrote,” adding that she was the one “that had to cover this because it’s my account.”
Bryant responds that he is going to send over $2,500—but when the woman asks for it to be transferred via Venmo, he says he does not have the money service.
“Will I ever get the $5,000 back you owe me for a hot check I had to cover??,” the woman writes in an April 5 message to Bryant, more than two years after he said he was going to send over the money. “Sure would be appreciated.”
“Extremely happy that he will get what is coming to him for what he has done,” she added.
Around the same time, Bryant told The Daily Beast, he perfected his scheme using payment platforms to send fake payments.
He said the scheme began in January 2020, when he and a friend were spending a Thursday evening at a Topgolf in Dallas—when they agreed that “playing a round of golf in Scottsdale” would be way more fun. On a whim, he said he started calling charter companies and was surprised when they were able to fly to Arizona soon after.
“We did the trip no problem and when I asked how I am going to pay for it, [the sales representative] said I could wire the money,” he said, noting he “just Googled third-party wire transfers” and learned that these systems would send over confirmation payments that he later learned could cancel.
The delayed payment confirmations, he said, was how he was able to “get away with it for so long.” But, he noted, he was constantly hounded by private jet companies when they realized that he did not pay.
“I would just stop taking their calls,” he said. “I just went crazy.”
Noting that it was extremely stressful to dodge calls, he said that he reached a point where he “didn’t really care” and used each lavish trip to escape the realities of his mounting problems. He even got arrested in March 2020 on similar state charges in Texas and was eventually released on bail on a $150,000 bond.
But that did not stop him from continuing the scheme.
“I was living life,” he said. “I was spending 50, 70, $100,000 dollars a day at the peak. I was so far deep into it it didn’t really matter.”
The schemes included convincing the owner of an oil and gas company to front “approximately $150,000 to reopen a fictitious oil well.” In one trip to Miami, after spending half a day on a yacht, Bryant was even able to fool a driver into paying for his hotel room.
Eventually, however, prosecutors say Bryant’s scheme came crashing down after one private jet trip to Miami on Nov. 18, 2021.
“Bryant represented that he was interested in buying an airplane of the type the company chartered, and wanted a ‘demo flight’ to make the final determination,” a Nov. 1 factual resume states.
The flight was scheduled from Lubbock to Houston and on to Miami—before eventually doing the same route back. The base cost for the private flight leaving Lubbock was $33,000, but an extra $5,000 was added to the bill “to cover alcoholic beverages inflight and limousine transportation with whatever remained to be retained as a ‘tip’ per Bryant,” prosecutors say.
“The invoice for the return flights mirrored the initiating flight’s invoice for a grand total of $76,000,” the court document states.
After agreeing the payment would go through QuickBooks, prosecutors say, Bryant texted the sales representative of a private charter flight company saying, “Send me that email so I can have my secretary pay ya buddy.”
Minutes later he sent a follow-up text saying, “She’s paying it now.”
Bryant and his friends enjoyed their Miami vacation for about three days before the private jet company contacted him after receiving a notification from QuickBooks about the failed invoice.
Promising to “pay both invoices with bank wire transfers,” prosecutors say Bryant boarded the return flight back to Texas—but ceased all communications when he touched down in Texas on Nov. 23, 2021.
The private jet company, however, continued to message and attempt to contact Bryant about the missing $76,000. While prosecutors did not go into detail in court papers about how they eventually nabbed Bryant, the only charge against the 26-year-old are connected to a November 2021 private jet trip.
In a Wednesday phone call with The Daily Beast, Bryant noted that his biggest mistake on the November 2021 trip was using the same private charter company for his return flight back to Texas.
After landing in Texas, he said he went to the Houston Rockets game and was surprised when he learned that the plane company stayed close by to receive payment. To avoid them, he said he “went to a Porsche dealership… and I bought a Porsche SUV and I went to Nashville.”
Bryant was arrested the next month—when he said he was at a car dealership attempting to buy an Audi and a Maserati.
“In that moment, I kind of felt some relief because I knew it was over,” he added. “Towards the end of it, it was all looking over my shoulder.”
He has remained in custody since his December 2021 arrest, a time that Bryant said has given him time to “think about how fast everything happened and how big everything got.”
“It was fun, but I definitely do regret it. A lot of these companies are good, hard-working people. They built these companies up and it’s hard to take a $100,000 loss. And I did that to 50 people,” Bryant said in a Wednesday phone call, his thick southern accent choking up. “It’s definitely weird to look at pictures and think wow I was just living in the moment.”
“The serious consequences had zero impression on me.”