One of D.C.’s best-known pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors hands reins to his son.

In­ves­tiga­tive Group In­ter­na­tional evolves as its lead­er­ship is handed to the next gen­er­a­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY AARON GREGG aaron.gregg@wash­post.com

Speak­ing to a crowd of lawyers, com­puter hack­ers, re­tired in­tel­li­gence an­a­lysts and former jour­nal­ists on a rooftop over­look­ing the White House, Terry Len­zner does not look like he’s ready to hang it up. He works the crowd with warmth but looks you in the eye with the in­ten­sity of an in­ter­roga­tor.

But on Oct. 8, Len­zner, 76, gath­ered some of his clos­est as­so­ci­ates to an­nounce that he is hand­ing over lead­er­ship of In­ves­tiga­tive Group In­ter­na­tional to his son Jonathan.

Terry stepped down last spring from day-to-day op­er­a­tions, but he says he will be “cer­tainly on hand to jump in when needed,” and will still help shape the di­rec­tion of the firm as owner and chair­man.

A former Water­gate at­tor­ney who served a sub­poena on Richard M. Nixon, Len­zner founded his pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tion busi­ness in 1984 with the help of three jour­nal­ists (two of them came from The Wash­ing­ton Post) and filled out the ranks with sleuths of all sorts.

He hired former FBI deputy di­rec­tor Larry Potts, former in­tel­li­gence an­a­lysts such as cur­rent man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Robert Ma­son, and law en­force­ment of­fi­cials such as former New York City Po­lice Depart­ment com­mis­sioner Ray­mond Kelly. He also liked former jour­nal­ists, whose skills at wheedling out in­for­ma­tion in in­for­mal set­tings struck a con­trast to the more me­thod­i­cal pace of the typ­i­cal pros­e­cu­tor, who tends to rely on the power of the sub­poena.

Len­zner’s tac­tics were more gumshoe. At one point he paid jan­i­tors to ob­tain trash con­tain­ing Mi­crosoft’s cor­po­rate se­crets on be­half of com­peti­tor Oracle. And he fa­mously dug up dirt on women who brought sex­ual-mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions against Bill Clin­ton.

The bou­tique firm, which can charge $100,000 for a big in­ves­ti­ga­tion, still runs a steady busi­ness in Wash­ing­ton’s hall­ways. To­day, it has 50 to 60 cases open at any given time, one-third of them large projects such as an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion at a large cor­po­ra­tion. The rest are small due dili­gence cases for which the com­pany typ­i­cally charges tens of thou­sands of dol­lars. Some reg­u­lar clients pay a monthly re­tainer.

In re­cent years, the com­pany has run into com­pe­ti­tion from un­ex­pected places. The Dis­trict’s big law firms, which are re­spon­si­ble for about half of IGI’s re­fer­rals, are in­creas­ingly get­ting in on the in­ves­ti­ga­tions game. Terry’s co-founder Jim Mintz spun off his own in­ves­tiga­tive firm in 1994, and New York-based Nardello and Co. fol­lows a sim­i­lar busi­ness model.

As its been out­flanked by com­peti­tors, IGI has dou­bled down on its legacy clients.

“They never ar­gue that what we are go­ing to do costs too much money,” said Bob Kelso, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Foren­sic Pur­suit, an elec­tronic-ev­i­dence­gath­er­ing firm that part­ners with IGI on in­ves­ti­ga­tions. “They want the job done, and they’re will­ing to pay the price to get high-end work done.”

In its hey­day, the com­pany’s ranks swelled to 130 em­ploy­ees across mul­ti­ple ci­ties, but Len­zner hated hav­ing to man­age a work­force.

Bring­ing in busi­ness was his thing — a “rain­maker,” his son says.

“Terry was a good leader in the sense that he could mo­ti­vate peo­ple, at­tract clients and build a fol­low­ing,” Jonathan said. “His em­ploy­ees love him, hate him and at times both love him and hate him.”

“But,” the son said, “he was not a good busi­ness­man and not a great man­ager.” So who is Jonathan Len­zner? For starters, he is his fa­ther’s son.

“My fa­ther and I have al­ways had a good re­la­tion­ship, but I knew it would be a chal­lenge to work with fam­ily,” said Jonathan, 42. “So I never re­ally wanted to work with him, but I did want to learn from him.”

He started his ca­reer in a dif­fer­ent sort of role on Capi­tol Hill, as a press sec­re­tary for a Con­necti­cut con­gress­man. He went on to work for Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Bill Bradley ahead of the 2000 elec­tions. Draw­ing on that ex­pe­ri­ence, Jonathan adds cri­sis communications to IGI’s port­fo­lio, a shift for a firm that built its name on fact-find­ing mis­sions. In the past eigh­teen months, at least eight of the firm’s new cases have veered into me­dia strat­egy.

“A lot of lawyers don’t un­der­stand the me­dia, how quickly it moves now and how ag­gres­sive you need to be,” Jonathan said.

He talks like a PR op­er­a­tive, hop­ping off- and on-record like some­one who knows his way around the me­dia.

He also draws on pros­e­cu­to­rial ex­pe­ri­ence. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from law school in 2004, Jonathan served in the Man­hat­tan dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice for six years, tak­ing on every­thing from pub­lic cor­rup­tion and financial fraud to sex traf­fick­ing.

He moved to the Dis­trict in 2010 to work in the Mary­land U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice, and moved on to his fa­ther’s firm in 2013. (Jonathan is mar­ried to a Post reporter who did not con­trib­ute to this ar­ti­cle.)

“I had never thought I would join the busi­ness,” he said. “When I did join, it was be­cause it was a unique op­por­tu­nity to make a brand bet­ter.”

The firm has typ­i­cally found its busi­ness through word of mouth in Wash­ing­ton’s power cir­cles. Jonathan says he wants to get more ag­gres­sive about mar­ket­ing while still pri­or­i­tiz­ing loy­alty over out­reach.

“He’ll pass up a buck to make sure his client’s in­ter­est is what’s mo­ti­vat­ing him rather than rev­enue,” said Benoit Flippen, prin­ci­pal se­cu­rity con­sul­tant at Fu­sionX, a Re­ston-based cy­ber­se­cu­rity com­pany that has part­nered with IGI.

The part­ner­ship with Fu­sionX sug­gests that Jonathan could be tak­ing the firm high-tech, a de­par­ture from the old-school, shoe-leather in­for­ma­tion gath­er­ing it has re­lied on in years past. Fu­sionX em­ploys “ex­pert hack­ers” to sim­u­late data breaches, iden­ti­fy­ing se­cu­rity vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties by break­ing into a client’s net­work.

Terry Len­zner says things fell into place when his son re­turned to the Dis­trict af­ter a decade-long ca­reer as a pros­e­cu­tor.

“I didn’t start it to be a fam­ily busi­ness, but my fam­ily — my chil­dren, my wife — have been a part of IGI at one time or an­other,” Terry said. “Bring­ing him in with the idea of hav­ing him run things seemed like the nat­u­ral thing to do.”

He will be fol­low­ing the legacy of his fa­ther’s sto­ried rep­u­ta­tion. Terry’s in­ter­view­ing style earned him the moniker “Ter­ri­ble Terry,” which lit up the me­dia af­ter a 1972 Water­gate hear­ing. Terry was the deputy coun­sel to Sa­muel Dash, the chief coun­sel on the Sen­ate Water­gate Com­mit­tee. “He could al­ways change the mood in a room, and not al­ways for the bet­ter,” Jonathan said.

As Terry re­lates in a 2013 mem­oir, White House aide Richard Moore was called to the stand as a sur­prise wit­ness. De­spite hav­ing less than an hour to pre­pare for the in­ter­view, Terry grilled the man so mer­ci­lessly that a New York Times colum­nist ac­cused him of run­ning a “vi­cious at­tack,” sug­gest­ing that the young lawyer was “be­daz­zled” by his mo­ment “in the lime­light,” us­ing it to make an ex­am­ple of Moore.

“The hear­ings be­came their own kind of soap opera, in which many view­ers saw an ag­gres­sive young man pick­ing on a nice old man, and they didn’t like it,” Terry wrote in his mem­oir.

The event would be re­mem­bered as a defin­ing mo­ment of the hear­ings.

As for Jonathan, hav­ing the same last name as one of the most feared men in Wash­ing­ton came with its share of odd en­coun­ters around town.

One sum­mer when he was in law school, he sat dur­ing a din­ner party and re­al­ized mid­con­ver­sa­tion that he was talk­ing to the grand­daugh­ter of Moore, the man his fa­ther had in­ter­ro­gated on na­tional tele­vi­sion.

She and her fam­ily did not have fond mem­o­ries of Terry or the fall­out from the in­ter­view.

“My grand­fa­ther was never the same af­ter the White House in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” the young woman told Jonathan.

When he started talk­ing about his own fam­ily, there was a long pause.

“I know ex­actly who your fa­ther is,” she said.

The con­ver­sa­tion ended there.

JO­CE­LYN AU­GUSTINO

Jonathan Len­zner is tak­ing over lead­er­ship of In­ves­tiga­tive Group In­ter­na­tional from his fa­ther, Terry. The D.C.-based pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tion busi­ness was founded in 1984.

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