The first time I met Josh Lankford, the Lamborghini-driving flimflam artist now on the lam from federal authorities, he was pacing around his Highland Park offices, tie askew, shirt untucked, talking with the fervor of Tony Robbins and the opacity of a politician. He was short, barely taller than 5-foot-2, not counting the impressive shock of blond hair that hovered above his forehead before joining the rest of his haircut.
“Can you wrap your arms around this?” he asked. “It’s going to be huge. It’ll blow everyone’s minds. People will be begging to get into this two years from now and wishing they were in on the ground floor.”
Of course, I didn’t know at the time that Lankford might be doing anything illegal. I was there for a job interview, a job that would pay more than the rent-and-ramen job I was holding down. He had been a stockbroker at a Dallas firm but had struck out on his own with the idea of launching an internet TV station and becoming a restaurateur. He already owned part of Avner Samuel’s Aurora. It all sounds a bit much, looking back on it now, but at the time, visions of no longer having to climb into my 2000 Hyundai from the passenger side because the driver’s side door was stuck shut were, admittedly, running through my head. That day, it sounded like an opportunity.
We covered the standard interview material: what kind of work I’d done before, my experience with research and investigative reporting. My Rolodex of federal officials and my abridged knowledge of the penny stock market interested him, too. And then came the question that ultimately got me hired.
“Are you easily offended?” Lankford asked.
Based on the answers I could give, several possible scenarios unfolded in my head, all from movies of various ratings that may or may not be shown late at night.
“Uh, depends on the subject?” I said, trying to sound as unsexy as possible, thinking, “Please don’t be porn, please don’t be porn, please don’t be porn.”
“I mean, do you like to cuss a lot?” he tried again. “Because we like to cuss a lot around here.”
“Cuss?” I said, looking at him blankly.
“You know, say four-letter words. Bad words. Curse,” he said.
Relieved, I took a deep breath, and then proceeded to unleash a profanity-filled sentence that, if I’d uttered it in public, would have gotten me arrested. It was that good. I was the Da Vinci of invective, the Balanchine of bawdiness, the Jasper Johns of obscenity-laced sentence structure.
I paused for breath, and continued. For possibly 10 wondrous minutes, I produced an aria of filth that would either horrify him or get me the job. If I
was going down (as it were), I was going down in glorious, unfettered, multisyllabic indecency.
I lost all track of time as I demonstrated my skill. He got up and poured himself a cup of coffee. Smoked a couple of cigarettes. I’d pause periodically for a sip of water.
Finally, I ran out of curse words, and ways to use them. I stopped and hesitantly looked over to the couch on which Lankford had sprawled himself. He thought for a moment, looked at me as if to make certain I had finished, then nodded and said, “You’re hired.”
At first, the job was ridiculously fun, even if the hours were long. To a reporter looking for bad actors, the penny stock market is one huge, rich vein of material to mine. I had giant binders dedicated to scam companies I was writing about. But, of course, the real racket was happening right under my nose.
Google Lankford’s name or his defunct internet TV company, Market News First. You’ll find a smorgasbord of indictments, lawsuits, and SEC filings. He and his partners, it turned out, were running a pump-and-dump scheme, promoting companies they had invested in, then selling right before the companies’ stocks plummeted. I recall him getting “on air” himself, screaming about certain companies in a way that made Jim Cramer look like Abe Vigoda on quaaludes. By one estimate, he eventually made off with $20 million in ill-gotten gains.
I lasted with Lankford a scant year or so before I opted to leave, burned out from fighting requests to cover certain companies with—oh, let’s call it “special care.” Lankford’s dream hit the skids a few months later, not long after he moved the entire enterprise to the Infomart.
I’ve nearly recovered from that yearlong odyssey through the world of professional swearing. My subsequent employers haven’t been so impressed by my skills.
Prigs, effing all of them.
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