Meet Jeffrey Lang, advertising salesman, convicted felon, grifter. Currently, he resides in the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Sacramento County, where he awaits trial on six felony charges that include the forgery or counterfeiting of seals, grand theft of money, labor and personal property, and the unlawful use of personal identifying information.
Lang is of course presumed innocent until proven guilty of the charges, brought by two Sacramento professional women who allege he swindled them out of tens of thousands of dollars through forgery, fraud and identity theft. But my spidey sense is tingling. I know this grifter, Jeffrey Lang. Broken hearts and empty wallets seem to follow him wherever he goes.
I should know, because he broke and emptied mine.
Grifting is an old-school term referring to “nonviolent” criminal activities such as pick-pocketing, check-kiting and small-scale Ponzi schemes where perpetrators use skill, charm and subterfuge instead of brute force to financially disable their prey. Lang's preferred grift is the advertising salesman who cons clients into signing checks directly to him instead of the agency he's representing.
Those were the types of criminal activities he was charged of in 2012 in Humboldt County. Lang pleaded guilty to among other things forging $135,000 worth of checks from a local advertising agency. Those may sound like serious charges, but thanks to the new sentencing guidelines established by AB 109, the prison realignment bill passed by the California Legislature in 2011, Lang was sentenced to just 180 days in jail and five years probation. He was also ordered to pay $160,000 in restitution.
And here's the real rub: Lang spent just 50 days behind bars before being placed in the work-release program.The authorities figured the nonviolent inmate could get a head-start on paying down that $160,000. With his sullied reputation, he could hardly be expected to earn a living as an ad salesman in Humboldt County, so he was allowed to relocate to Sacramento, which is where I come into the picture.
I'd first met Lang previous to his conviction, at the Sacramento News and Review in 2008, where I was news editor and he was sales manager from 2008 until his 2010 indictment. Advertising and editorial are separated at SNR, so I didn't see him much. From what I did see, he seemed like the stereotypical athletic, gregarious, rah-rah, cheerleader type you frequently find filling head sales positions. Some people say he has charisma. I didn't see it then.
Writing from a distance, I'm certain that back then no one at SNR except Lang knew that Humboldt County authorities were building a case against him. I had left SNR by the time Lang was indicted in December, 2010, but I heard about it, because his indictment made a few headlines, notably because news media companies were among the victims of his shady tactics.
But for whatever reason—perhaps because grifters just aren't that newsworthy—local media didn't track the progress of Lang's case, and no one appears to have reported on his 2012 conviction. That permitted Lang to slip back into Sacramento under the radar and back into my life in the summer of 2013.
The Cannabis Magazine Catastrophe
I was reunited with Lang that summer at the launch party for the first issue of SacAlt magazine, a cannabis lifestyle monthly magazine founded by Lang and his business partner. It was funded by advertisements from Sacramento's two dozen or so medical marijuana collectives. The first issue was printed on nice glossy paper, but had been thrown together hastily and was poorly written and edited. Lang immediately approached me about editing the magazine. The first thing I asked him was what had happened with his indictment.
Lang told me that it had been settled out of court. It had been a "political" prosecution, by a vindictive Humboldt County DA still sore because of Lang's work on an opponent's campaign. It was an elaborate tale, but when I checked up on it, all I could find was the original story about the 2010 indictment, which I skimmed again but didn't read in detail. I really should have paid more attention.
In my defense, I was vulnerable at the time. Print journalism was and is going down the tubes, there weren't a lot opportunities knocking, and here was a ready-made project that appeared to be well-funded. I am not immune to the rah-rah guy approach, and to be frank, I badly needed the $1600 per month I was to be paid to develop, write and edit the magazine. So I decided to ignore the red flag and give Lang the benefit of the doubt.
It was hard work but it was great to be back in the journalism game full-time. I put my head down and kept ignoring the warnings. When I learned Market1Media, the company that published SacAlt, was not owned by Lang and two mysterious deep-pocketed partners as I had been told originally, I said, well, it's a start-up publication. It's to be expected.
When my first paycheck from Market1Media bounced, I said, well, it's a start-up. It's to be expected.
When I was paid with a medical marijuana dispensary check written out directly to me, I said, well, it's a start-up, and cashed the check.
When I stood on the corner and Lang handed me cash from his car as if we were conducting a drug transaction, I said, damn, I need the money (it was late and only half what I was owed).
Although virtually nothing Lang told me during the four months I worked with him turned out be true, I heeded none of these warnings. We were developing a good product, feedback from readers and the marijuana community was great, the money appeared to be pouring in. Then, all of a sudden, we came up $6500 short on the printing cost for the third issue. The printer wouldn't release the magazine. The red flags could no longer be ignored.
I went back to the 2010 story about Lang's indictment and re-read it. One of the primary ways Lang siphoned money from the agency he worked at was by instructing advertising clients to write out checks directly to him instead of the agency (note to ad clients: never, ever do this). That's his grift. I got a sick feeling in my stomach.
I called Hank Sims in Eureka, the reporter who wrote the story about Lang's indictment. He informed me that Lang pleaded guilty to felony theft in 2012 and was sentenced to 180 days in jail and five years of probation. Sims had since moved on to another media outlet, and his former paper didn't cover the conviction.
I called Humboldt County Adult Probation and talked to Lang's probation officer, who confirmed what Sims told me. He also told me that until I or someone else took Lang to small claims court and prevailed, Lang was not legally violating his probation. This is the essence of grifting, knowing just how far to go without being prosecuted.
Next I talked to Eureka Police Department detective Ron Prose, who helped put together the case against Lang. Prose informed me that Lang was originally charged with embezzling more than $380,000--that amount was later reduced to $160,000 during Lang's plea deal negotiations. Prose added that many of Lang's victims were still upset he'd done so little jail time.
Any illusion I had that Lang was a legitimate businessman was shattered after talking to the Humboldt County authorities. I'd asked Lang point-black about the indictment before signing on to the magazine project, and he'd straight-up lied to me. I believed him, gave him the benefit of the doubt, because I wanted to believe him. I needed to believe him. It's not a good feeling, realizing you've been grifted.
After learning the truth, I immediately called a meeting at my house—which served as SacAlt's office, since Lang had never rented office space despite promising numerous times to do so—and confronted Lang and his business partner with the hard facts over my dining room table.
Lang hung his head like a dog caught in the act, but his partner refused to believe my allegations. He couldn't believe the man sitting next to him was a convicted felon, and he wasn't the only one. There were several SacAlt staffers who remained loyal to the end. Lang has that effect on people. We agreed to go our separate ways, and I freely admit I went nuclear on Jeffrey Lang's reputation.
I called every SacAlt advertiser and told them about Lang's criminal history. That pretty much killed the magazine. I broadcast his criminal history on Facebook—where you can still find it today—to warn people to beware of doing business with him. I stand by every word I've written.
Through further digging, I discovered Lang was also working at a Sacramento area senior magazine that summer of 2013. The publisher alleged that she'd caught Lang instructing his clients to write checks to him instead of the magazine, including his own girlfriend at the time, a realtor he conned into purchasing a full-page ad.
What gradually began to dawn upon me once my anger subsided was that I was among the least of Lang's victims. Not to minimize the impact on my life. I'd put a lot of time, energy and pride into the magazine, and I was owed $3000 in unpaid wages. It was a serious blow to my already strained financial situation, and I was forced to move from Sacramento to eastern Shasta County, where my family owns property.
If I'd stayed, I might have pursued Lang in small claims court. Then again, I might not have. There's a long, long line of people waiting for Jeffrey Lang to pay them back.
Lady's Man On The Long Con
That was 3 years ago and time heals all wounds. I hadn't given Jeffrey Lang much thought for months when out of the blue on December 1, I was contacted by Shannon from Yuba County on Facebook. Shannon was searching for information about Lang, and she'd come upon my Facebook posts. The internet is forever.
Shannon is her real first name, she's a real person and I have verified her existence. I am not using her last name at her request. She doesn't want her whole name turning up in internet searches for convicted felon Jeffrey Lang, a very real possibility.
It's important to reiterate that Lang is presumed innocent until proven guilty of the charges he is currently facing in Sacramento County Superior Court. Some of what you're about to read may sound incredible, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily illegal activity. Again, that's the essence of grifting.
Shannon alleges that after meeting Lang on an online dating site in August last year, they hit it off, and he commissioned her to write a business proposal for an edible cannabis company located in Placer County. I've confirmed that this company exists.
By October, she felt comfortable enough to allow Lang to stay in her place several days while his condo was being remodeled. She claims she provided him a short-term loan of $5000 to further their business proposal with the edibles company.
But by November, Shannon was having her doubts. She discovered there was no condo and Lang balked at paying back the loan. She started digging online for information and found the story about his 2010 indictment. She found my Facebook posts from 2013. Now she was asking me what she could do to get her money back.
I told her to call Lang's probation officer, even though I knew what he was going to tell her: File a case in small claims court and get in line. December went by, New Year's came and went and I figured nothing had come of it when Shannon messaged me on Facebook with remarkable news on January 11.
“You will be pleased to know that Jeffrey Lang is in jail,” she said.
I was astonished and went to Sacramento County's website and confirmed that indeed, Lang was in custody, had been in custody since December 21, at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, for the aforementioned felony charges. He is also on a PC 1275 hold, meaning he is ineligible for bail by law enforcement request.
Shannon further informed me that she and five other women, each of whom alleges they've been both intimate with and financially victimized by Lang, had been on hand that morning for the would-be Lothario's arraignment in Sacramento Superior Court. It was the first time they'd met, and they were disappointed when he didn't appear, because his public defender had been reassigned.
The six women are all middle-class professionals, ranging in age from 30 to 50, some of them with grown kids, some with kids still in the home. They reside in four separate counties: Yuba, Sacramento, Placer and Sonoma.
I've interviewed four of them so far and have verified their identities. Five of them claim they met Lang through online dating sites. After his arrest, they learned of their shared existence as both Lang's paramour-of-the-moment and creditor-of-last-resort, mostly through Shannon's efforts, who first started connecting all of the dots.
A woman's name on a credit card Lang allegedly used to pay for dinner on their first date led Shannon to one of the two victims that has filed charges against Lang in Sacramento County. I've talked to her, she's a real person, but she wishes to remain anonymous. Sacramento County victim No. 1 comes from a Middle Eastern culture, her family doesn't know she's allegedly been swindled, and it will bring great shame upon them if they find out, which they will, if it goes to jury trial.
Victim No. 1 claims she met Lang through an online dating site in December 2014, about a year after I left Sacramento. She found Lang charismatic and was attracted to him physically. After a number of broken dates called off at the last minute by Lang, she alleges they eventually hooked up. By April, 2015, she claims he began asking her for a $4000 short-term loan, to purchase legal medicinal cannabis oil he planed to resell for a 10 percent profit, which would be returned to her with the original loan.
Eventually, she scraped up the $4000, in cash, which she claims she gave to Lang. The cannabis oil never materialized, which made her suspicious, as did the sudden disappearance of some of her valuable heirloom jewelry.
Nevertheless, by November, 2015, Lang was sleeping on her couch. She says she allowed him to stay off-and-on for seven months, partly because she felt sympathetic toward him and partly because she feared he wouldn't pay her back if she wasn't nice to him. She says she found out later that Lang had stolen her identity, opened four credit card accounts in her name and maxed all the cards out. That's one of the felonies he's charged with in Sacramento.
After she finally gave him the boot in May 2016, Lang took up residence with alleged Sacramento County victim No. 2. Unlike the other alleged victims, she met Lang through her running club, where he was friends with the club president. She liked his positive attitude and the way he made people feel good about themselves.
Such was the trust Lang gained from her in a short period of time, she didn't think twice about bailing Lang out when he was arrested in late August in Sonoma County for yet another financial scam, this one involving a longtime friend of the Lang family. She was unaware of his previous conviction in Humboldt County, and by the time she'd grown wise to Lang's grift, she claims her retirement account was drained by $32,000.
Allegedly opening those credit card accounts in Sacramento County victim No. 1's name may turn out to be the crime that finally proves to Lang's undoing. Two of the cards were made out to Sacramento County victim No. 2's address. Victim No. 2 intercepted them in the mail and recognized victim No. 1's name on the card as Lang's supposed “ex” girlfriend. She contacted her, they compared notes, and not long after that they contacted the police department. Not long after that, Jeffrey Lang was arrested and thrown in jail with no bail.
Whether he stays in jail remains to be seen. I've contacted both the detective and prosecutor working on the Lang's case in Sacramento County, and while confirming the general details of the charges, they refused to comment further. Having done a number of stories on AB 109 prison realignment and sentencing reforms, I'm acutely aware that keeping nonviolent criminals behind bars has become an increasingly dubious prospect, no matter how many people they've grifted.
That's why I'll be there at Lang's next court hearing in Sacramento on Monday, February 6. I'll be meeting up with the six women who allege Lang has swindled them in one way or another, and if he agrees to it, I'll interview Lang himself, to get his side of the story. I”m sure he has a compelling explanation for why every one is so angry with him. I'll be filing a follow-up report upon my return.
Editor's note - Feb. 3, 2017: Since this story was first posted on Jan. 30, 2017, new information has surfaced that required revisions, primarily regarding fines and charges imposed. This current version of R.V. Scheide's story reflects those corrections.