Someday, someone will sit down and write a fascinating history of the con men and swindlers who have plied their trade, for a time, in Humboldt County. Does it seem like we get more of them than most other places do? It would make sense — we are hidden here at the end of the Lost Coast, where people have long come to reinvent themselves. Or to hide.
Whether or not we have had a greater quantity of grifters, we certainly have had a very high level of quality. This history would include, for one, Jeff Zander, who was hired by a board of locally elected government officials to serve as the executive director of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission, despite a record of fraud so legendary that it had already earned him a cover story in the Journal of the American Bar Association and a chapter in a book called Masters of Deception: The Worldwide White-Collar Crime Crisis.
And then there was Jeff Lang, whose grand thievery — forged checks, intercepted payments — bankrupted a local family-owned ad agency before he was finally brought to trial. Lang pleaded guilty and received a light sentence and some probation, then moved back to the Sacramento Valley and started things up all over again, founding a marijuana magazine that went belly-up in a few months, leaving a long trail of stiffed investors and customers and employees in its wake.
That chapter of Lang’s career is recounted in “On the Trail of a California Grifter, Part 1: The Ladies Strike Back,” the first of reporter R.V. Scheide’s multipart look back — and forward! — at the mystery of Lang.
For Scheide brings new news: Lang now sits in a Sacramento County jail ineligible for bail and awaiting trial on brand-new felony charges of forgery, grand theft and “the unlawful use of personal identifying information.” These charges arise, Scheide tells us, from his relationship with six women, at least five of whom he met on online dating sites. The women gave Lang lots of money on false pretenses, it seems, and in at least one case he appears to have falsely taken out credit cards in his victim’s name. (Though, as Scheide takes pains to remind us: He is presumed innocent until proven guilty.)
Scheide’s story — and the stories following it, I’d bet — are well worthy reading, not only for those who had the misfortune to come across Lang here, during his Humboldt County years, but for some insight into the modus operandi of someone like Lang:
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.
Check out the whole story at anewscafe.com.