Putting a person behind bars is a serious thing. That's a hard fact to ignore in Department 62 of the Lorenzo E. Patino Hall of Justice, housed inside the Sacramento County Jail, where in-custody defendants make their pleas to magistrates from a steel cage that's stout enough to hold a tiger or two, and for good reason. Some defendants are more cooperative than others.
Early on the morning of Feb. 6, I sat with three women in the front row of this jailhouse courtroom, directly behind the cage, awaiting the appearance of the man they allege has bilked them out of tens of thousands of dollars. I couldn't help thinking someone has finally managed to put Jeffrey Lang in his place.
It was not an altogether pleasant thought. As an individual whose life has been negatively effected by Lang, there was some satisfaction knowing he would soon be in the dock. Yet the iron cage in front of us symbolized the grim reality that awaits him, should he be convicted this time around. The only currency he has left to pay with is time, in the form of a lengthy jail or prison sentence. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
I introduced the three women accompanying me to Lang's hearing in the first installment of the California Grifter series. Two of the women met Lang through online dating sites; all three allege they had intimate relations with him, and all three allege he swindled them to varying degrees. For now, ANewsCafe.com is granting them anonymity, but should the case ever go to trial, their names could become public.
Shannon from Yuba City first contacted me in December, after reading a Facebook post I'd written about my experience with Lang and SacAlt magazine in 2013. Long story short, I and many others helped successfully launch a cannabis lifestyle magazine, only to have Lang not pay us for our services. I discovered Lang had pleaded guilty in 2012 to embezzling $160,000 from a Humboldt County advertising agency, confronted him with the information, and we parted ways.
Shannon met Lang in August, 2016 and by October he'd conned her into loaning him more than $5000 for his alleged medicinal cannabis company, Pacificanna Organics, which Sacramento County investigators now allege is a fictitious company. I suggested Shannon contact the Humboldt County probation department. She did that and more, discovering a half-dozen other women who've allegedly been victimized by Lang in Sonoma, Placer and Sacramento counties.
If anyone can take credit for putting Lang where he is today, it's Sacramento County Victims Nos. 1 and 2, who've been able to provide prosecutors with enough evidence to charge Lang with six separate felonies, including forgery and counterfeiting a notary seal. The two victims had already met and were taking steps to put Lang behind bars when Shannon contacted them in December, 2016, shortly before Lang was arrested in Sacramento County.
All three of them have been frank with me about their intimate relationship with Lang, and I thought meeting them in person might be a bit awkward. Instead, when I met them outside Dept. 62 before the proceeding began, they turned out to be exactly who they said they were: Three professional women determined and eager to see an alleged financial predator stopped in his tracks.
Sacramento Victim No. 1 is of Middle Eastern descent, and contrary to what I wrote in the first article, wishes to remain anonymous to protect her professional and private reputation, not because of any stereotypical cultural baggage I attributed to her. Neither was her attraction to Lang merely physical, as I'd interpreted from our first interview.
“I was most attracted to his general knowledge, sense of humor, him being a single father,” she told me in a later interview. “The fact that he was out of job and wanted to provide for his kids, gave us so much in common. He was educated and looked so professional, so he couldn't possibly have been a crook, I thought. So wrong of me to judge him by his outside.”
Just about all of the people who've been suckered by Lang say similar things. Sacramento County Victim No. 1 met Lang on Match.com in December, 2014.
“When he met me, he said I was perfect,” she said. “Today I know it probably meant I was perfect prey.”
She spent nearly a year-and-a-half with Lang, during which time she loaned him a total of $9000 for his alleged cannabis company, which he's never paid back. He allegedly stole $18,000 worth of heirloom jewelry from her home and forged at least 13 of her personal checks, totaling $7000.
The last six months, Lang took over a spare room in her house and she paid some of his bills, hoping his luck would change for the better. She asked him to leave in May, 2016, after discovering he'd opened a joint-credit card account in her name without her knowledge. He'd eventually open up three more accounts, destroying her credit rating.
Sacramento Victim No. 1 hasn't just suffered financial damage, she's been emotionally traumatized as well. She has high blood pressure and other health problems exacerbated by the stress of the ordeal. Despite many warnings, she believed in Lang until the very end, and she blames herself for being so gullible. When she talks about the case, her dark eyes invariably well up with tears.
Lang didn't miss a beat after being evicted by Victim No. 1, moving quickly on to Sacramento County Victim No. 2. She first met Lang in January, 2016, through her running group.
“He was always very friendly, saying hi and telling everyone how good a job they did,” Victim No. 2 recalled. “Last summer he started organizing Saturday runs and I would meet up with a few of them and run. We ended up talking and he told me how he had just moved out of his roommate situation and was waiting to buy out his ex-fiancee from the house they shared. We starting going out in June.”
In July, she loaned Lang $10,000 from her retirement account so he could pay off his bills and re-start his alleged medicinal cannabis business. He promised to pay her back by October, when his “harvest” came in. At the end of the month, he claimed the alleged purchase of his ex-fiancee's home fell through. Although there was no actual home, Lang showed her a document from a non-existent Humboldt County title company claiming Lang's $32,000 escrow payment would soon be returned to him.
The amount turned out to be prescient. It's exactly what Lang, in four short months, grifted from Sacramento County Victim No. 2's retirement account under the pretense that he'd pay her back with the fictitious escrow payment. Lang didn't stop there, Victim No. 2 alleges, taking advantage of her hospitality by helping himself, without her knowledge, to her personal and business bank account and routing numbers to pay his bills and other expenses.
Lang's eventual undoing came in the mail to Victim No. 2's house in late September, 2016, a joint-credit card issued to Lang in the name of Victim No. 1, who, Lang had previously informed her, had just been a roommate, not a lover or business partner.
“He of course talked his way out of that one, but by then, things were pretty bad between us,” Victim No. 2 said. “I was just buying time and I still believed I was going to get my money back.”
By October, she'd gotten Lang out of her house—unknown to her at the time, he'd already met Shannon from Yuba County. She contacted Sacramento County Victim No. 1 who just happened to live in the same town, Folsom. They compared notes and discovered that Lang was taking both of them to the cleaners in a similar fashion.
Sacramento Victim No. 2 is a licensed notary, and in a bizarre twist, Lang copied her notary seal and used it to add authenticity to phony documents, including a personal loan agreement between Lang and Victim No. 1.
According to Victim No. 2, copying the notary seal is a serious felony, and she could be held accountable for allowing it to fall into Lang's hands. Nevertheless, in November, she and Victim No. 1 decided to report Lang to the Folsom Police Department.
By Christmas, Lang was locked up in the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, and a half-dozen of his most recent alleged victims, all of whom are successful, professional women, had become aware of each other's existence thanks to the wonder of the internet.
In January, four of them showed up for Lang's first court appearance in Department 62 to offer each other moral support and stare down their alleged tormentor, only to be disappointed when Lang's appearance was cancelled without prior notice.
“I just want to see him when he sees all of us in court,” a disappointed Victim No. 2 told me after the cancellation in January. “With an orange jumpsuit with handcuffs on!”
The Ladies Get Their First Day In Court
On that early Monday morning, she mostly got her wish. Lang did finally appear in orange jail garb, sans handcuffs, staring straight ahead at the judge, never once turning around to see the three alleged victims sitting not more than 10 feet behind him, shooting imaginary daggers into his back with their eyes.
They make quite a crew, these ladies. The female bailiff, armed with a gun and a taser, warned them to put their cell phones away as the proceedings got underway, but they whipped them back out as soon as she turned her back, furiously texting the victims who couldn't attend the hearing, anxious that somehow Lang might avoid appearing once again.
With more than 80 cases on the docket—Lang was No. 38 on the list—Sacramento Superior Court Judge Richard K. Sueyoshi, deputy district attorney Matthew Moore and assistant public defender Amanda Massiminni had their hands full.
The in-custody defendants are kept in a holding room next to the courtroom until their appearance. They enter the cage from the audience's right, through an armored door in the wall separating the rooms.
A large percentage of the cases involved mentally ill defendants in need of further diagnosis and were quickly adjudicated. A large percentage were either African American or Latino, making it obvious they weren't Lang, who is white, the second they stepped through the door and into the cage, each time eliciting disappointed mutters from Lang's alleged victims.
I could sense the ladies' impatience, so during a break in the proceedings, I asked deputy district attorney Moore, whom I'd spoken to previously on the phone, if Lang was going to appear. He looked over, saw me sitting with the three women behind the cage, and assured us Lang would indeed be appearing.
That settled the ladies down somewhat. We sat through several more minor cases and then, after two hours of waiting, Lang stepped through the door and into the cage.
The women on either side of me gasped and clasped their arms across me in moral support, restricting my arms and making it pretty much impossible to take notes. Lang followed the written instructions inside the cage, facing toward the judge and away from us. The ladies on the other hand were ignoring the sign outside the cage that said not to communicate with the defendants in any way. I was concerned the bailiff might kick us out, and I think I might have shushed the ladies.
Lang was a model defendant, letting assistant public defender Massiminni do all the talking to the judge. She informed the judge that Lang was seeking a bail reduction. She said Lang had a legitimate cannabis business, a bachelor's degree in journalism from Humboldt State University, and volunteered for charity groups, including the Special Olympics. She said that Lang denied the charges against him and claimed that Sacramento County Victims Nos. 1 and 2 had found out he was cheating on them and were now attempting to get even by prosecuting him.
“You lying SOB!” Victim No. 2 on my left hissed out loud, except she didn't use the acronym. I'm pretty sure I shushed her again. Everything happened so fast.
Assistant district attorney Moore was ready for the bail reduction request.
He began by ticking off Sacramento County Victim No. 1's allegations, the stolen jewelry, the forged checks, the credit card accounts, noting that the damage totaled more than $45,000.
He pointed out the phony real estate document Lang allegedly used to convince Victim No. 2 to loan him money. He informed the court that Lang was also facing similar charges in Sonoma County.
Finally, he told the court that he'd just learned that the Humboldt County Probation Department had violated Lang's probation from his first felony conviction five years ago.
“Based on all that, I would say his bail is set too low,” the assistant DA said jauntily.
The judge concurred, but kept Lang's bail set at $60,000. It's somewhat of a moot point, because Lang's bail is on hold, in part because of the pending charges in Sonoma County. Even if he was eligible for bail, it's not clear where he'd get the money. Lang appears to have few friends left. No one has visited him in jail.
The Man In The Cage
Meanwhile, as all this was being discussed, Lang, who I could only see from behind, through the cage's bars, was vigorously twitching his head left and right and mouthing the word “no, no, no.”
I tried to contact Lang through the jail when I started this series, and even though he has yet to reply, I presumed he realized the authorities were on to him. Instead, he seemed genuinely shocked anyone was questioning his story.
I hadn't seen him in more than three years. He's gained some weight, and filled out his orange RCCC tunic and trousers nicely. His usual crew cut was unkempt and his crown has receded noticeably. He was wearing what appeared to be designer glasses. More than any other defendant I saw that day, his body language seemed to defiantly say, “I do not belong here.”
Yet Lang isn't going anywhere soon. Now that Humboldt County has revoked his probation, prosecutors may be revisiting his original sentence, a plea bargain arrangement in which the charges and length of sentence were reduced in exchange for a guilty plea. As I documented in Part 2 of this series, Lang pled guilty to embezzling $160,000 from a Humboldt County advertising agency in 2012, but was originally charged with crimes totaling three times that amount.
Lang was ultimately sentenced to 180 days in jail and 5 years probation in April, 2012—he would have completed his probation in April this year. He only spent 50 days behind bars before qualifying for the work-release program, under new guidelines established by AB 109 prison realignment for so-called non-violent, non-serious, no-sexual criminal offenders.
Lang hit the ground running the moment he was released from jail, grifting practically every single person he came across, including friends and family members, until two women from Sacramento County finally put him back in his place Dec. 21, 2016.
Now, Lang's spent more time in jail in Sacramento than he did on his original felony sentence. The new charges are substantial and not so easy to excuse away. The man in the cage is stuck on a pin and I do not envy him.
Perhaps he has some explanation for all of this. Perhaps he suffers from some sort of mental illness. People with severe bipolar disorder are known to commit similar crimes. I've asked friends and family members, who say they're unaware of Lang ever seeking serious mental health treatment. They also say they want to be left out of the story, and so they shall be.
I won't deny that like the ladies, I wanted Lang to know we were there, to exchange a telling glance with him that said, “Well, we've got you, what are you going to do now?”
The exchange between public defender, district attorney and judge couldn't have last more than a few minutes. They set the date for the next hearing, the door opened, Lang turned to exit the cage, and it seemed like our presence would finally be made known. But before any of us could make eye contact, the angle of the swinging door cut off our field of vision, and Lang was gone, denying us the satisfaction.
Shasta County Victim No. 1 found the entire experience surreal.
“When they called his name, I froze so bad that I couldn't turn to [Victim No. 2] and let her know it was him. I couldn't even reach a few inches to hold her hand. As with other ladies, I wanted him to see us all, past, present and in-between, and it was so disappointing when he didn't even catch a glimpse of us.”
She has mixed emotions knowing that the majority of the charges against Lang are hers.
“It was like the firing squad all aiming at him, but I know it's my gun that that has the real bullet, metaphorically,” she explained. “Everybody had their heart broken and were stolen from, but I win the lottery to put him in prison. I was not proud or empowered in any way.”
Sacramento County Victim No. 2 was surprised to discover the animosity she holds toward Lang.
“I am very disappointed that he didn’t turn around to look at us,” Victim No. 2 told me later. “Seeing him was a very emotional experience. I was shaking because all the emotions of anger, hurt and disappointment that I have been working through the last four months all came crashing back again. The hatred I felt when I saw him was a very foreign feeling.”
Shannon from Yuba County had hoped Lang would see them gathered in solidarity against him.
“I was very disappointed he didn't look at anyone,” she said. “I really wanted to have him see us all together, supporting each other. Have him know that we all were there together. Get some look of astonishment or disgust or remorse, anything. Seeing him shake his head as though everything were untrue, hear his claim that these accusations were because the ex-girlfriends were jealous, these things were upsetting to me.”
In addiction to prosecuting Lang in criminal court, Sacramento County Victims Nos. 1 and 2 have filled small claims cases against Lang in civil court. Shannon's done the same thing in Yuba County, as has the woman involved in the Sonoma County case.
They're already planning ahead for Lang's next appearance on March 13 and are pleased with Sacramento County assistant district attorney Matt Moore's performance on the case so far.
“I thought he was great,” Victim No. 2 said. “He helped me believe that's he's bent on keeping Jeffrey Lang where he is—in jail!