PRIVATE EYE LENZNER GOES INTERNATIONAL
In a corner office at D.C.’s 22-lawyer Rogovin, Huge & Lenzner, name partner Terry Lenzner skims a confidential memo and takes a call from one of his field investigators.
This is terrific stuff! he gushes into one of the three telephones atop his desk–the one reserved for investigations. How reliable is it? Should we have New York check it out? I got the report from London, by the way. he adds in rapid fire.
Lenzner is leading a double life: part Washington litigator at a respected D.C. firm, part private eye. As chairman of the Investigative Group Inc. (IGI), a private investigative firm he founded in 1984. Lenzner heads a corps of 14 international investigators. Because his specialty is digging up dirt on corporate raiders for clients involved in hostile takeovers. Lenzner’s firm expanded rapidly with the explosion in mergers and takeovers.
Last month, IGI opened a new Los Angeles office, and the London bureau opened its doors last January. These outposts are added to already established New York and Washington IGI offices.
The twin roles suit the 48-year-old Harvard Law School graduate, who has always liked to be at the center of intrigue. In the early 1970s, he became one of the golden boys on the Senate Watergate committee, serving as Deputy Chief Counsel in charge of investigating the dirty tricks component of Watergate.
He went on to become a rainmaker at D.C.’s now defunct Wald, Harkrader & Ross, where he both investigated and litigated the massive Alaska Pipeline case. Lenzner worked on other celebrated investigations, too, including the Atlanta child murders. According to one source, his 1981 departure from Wald, Harkrader, where he was bringing in annually more than $2 million in billings from the Alaska account alone, was the beginning of the end for the firm.
His years at Rogovin have been more tranquil, especially since the Alaska pipeline case wound down. When three partners defected from Rogovin last fall, rumors flew that Lenzner’s rainmaking abilities were falling short of his reputation and that the firm’s litigation practice had slowed.
Lenzner’s partners at Rogovin maintain the firm’s litigation practice is brisker than ever and that Lenzner has met all expectations.
Of course it is anticipated that anyone in Terry’s position would bring in his share of business, and Terry is an effective partner, says name partner Mitchell Rogovin.
And part of Lenzner’s effectiveness is his role as firm gumshoe. If Lenzner works personally on an IGI investigation, he bills his work through Rogovin.
Walking a Tightrope
Lenzner admits it is sometimes difficult to juggle his IGI responsibilities and his work at Rogovin. It’s a delicate balance, he says.
The dual role at first concerned his partners at Rogovin, Huge. They asked me to notify them if it started diverting my time or energy away from the firm. I said I wasn’t devoting significant time or billing any time to non-firm activities, he says.
In fact, 50 percent of Lenzner’s time is spent on IGI business. But Rogovin benefits from the arrangement because Lenzner’s IGI clients must retain Rogovin and pay for Lenzner’s time at about $200 an hour. The presumption is if a client ??(it,ibd,d060629) to me. It’s a law firm client, he explains.
Other IGI investigators’ rates run between $65 and $100 an hour–higher than most other D.C. private eyes, but lower than what lawyers would charge for similar work.
IGI was actually the brainchild of James Mintz, a former freelance writer and Washington Post researcher.
Mintz, 32, a graduate of the Boston University School of Public Communication, joined Wald, Harkrader in 1977 as an investigator and worked there with Lenzner until 1979.
In 1983, Mintz, who had moved to New York and opened his own investigative practice, worked again with Lenzner in a splashy case that landed them in Switzerland and Austria. Lenzner and Mintz represented Dayco Corp. (now DAY International) and uncovered a $13 million fraud by one of its employees.
After the Dayco investigation, Mintz approached Lenzner with the idea of starting IGI. Today, Mintz and Lenzner split the profits of the firm.
The very first day, we had just a New York office with a wooden desk. Jim was sitting there, and two mergers-and-acquisitions cases walked in the door. Lenzner remembers. So we were off and running.
Since then, Lenzner says. IGI has handled nearly 40 mergers-and-acquisitions cases. In both friendly and hostile takeovers, we investigate a company’s financial status and any potential regulatory problems, Lenzner explains. Any complaints at the EPA? The SEC? Better Business Bureaus? Are the principals of the company gamblers?
We also do due diligence work for investment banking firms and underwriting companies, he continues. If something goes wrong, the question is, Have the people financing the deal exercised due diligence in examining the areas of potential problems? We check things out.
Like most private investigators, Lenzner guards the identities of his clients jealously and refuses to reveal any details about his recent work.
Most of the M&A work is done out of the New York office, which under Mintz has grown to nine investigators. Lenzner admits IGI cannot hope to compete, however, with Wall Street’s Jules Kroll, the recognized leader in the takeover investigation field. We wouldn’t even try. He’s much bigger than we are. I’ve never worked with him. I just know he’s very good. says Lenzner.
Until fast year. IGI’s Washington office was headed by senior investigator John Hanrahan. a former Washington Post reporter and editor. He left IGI last year to become special projects reporter in United Press International’s Washington bureau. IGI’s Washington office is now headed by former ABC news writer and producer Thcodore Barry.
Lenzner swears by hiring reporters as investigators. They have a knack for getting people to talk about things they shouldn’t be, says Lenzner, the only law yer in IGI.
The new Los Angeles and London offices, each staffed so far with only two investigators, were opened to serve what Lenzner claims are top companies and law firms in the country and different parts of the world.
The international scope of his investigatory work has also benefited Rogovin. Lenzner and the firm recently handled a case in which a London insurance executive, who had insured a client without having assets to indemnify the client’s losses had fled from a $13 million judgment entered against him. The question was Where are his assets? We found them in different houses and islands in Spain, recalls Lenzner.
Keeping up with his frenzied schedule. Lenzner cuts a youthful figure. The former captain of the Harvard football team stays physically fit. working out an hour every morning at the George Washington University gym, before arriving at Rogovin at 8 a.m., still in sneakers and sweats.
His first job out of law school in 1964 was at the Justice Department working under John Doar in the Civil Rights Division. First assignment: investigate the disappearance and murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi. The case involving the murders of three civil rights activists went on to the Supreme Court in 1966.
I think a lot of this investigative interest goes back to that initial experience, Lenzner observes.
James Turner, deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, recalls working with Lenzner when he wasn’t yet even a member of the bar. He was already a crackerjack investigator, very dedicated to civil rights enforcement.
From there, Lenzner became an assistant U.S. attorney in New York, working under former U.S. Attorney Robert Morgenthau. In 1969, he returned to Washington as director of the legal services program of the Office of Equal Opportunity, supervising a staff of 2,000 lawyers. That brought his first confrontation with President Richard Nixon. In 1970, when Nixon wanted to eviscerate the program, Lenzner refused to make cuts and was fired.
Three years later, he was chosen by Samuel Dash to become Senate Watergate committee deputy counsel. I had heard a lot about him. He had an excellent reputation as an aggressive litigator, says Dash, now a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
He’s an aggressive bulldog type of prosecutor and investigator, adds Dash, recalling an incident where Lenzner nearly brought one Watergate witness, a White House aide, to tears. Put it this way: I wouldn’t want to be his target. Because he’s tough. I mean he’s relentless.
He has kind of a stem demeanor, agrees Fred Thompson, of D.C.’s Thompson & Bussary, minority counsel on the Watergate panel. But on a personal level, he’s a very soft-spoken, nice guy.
In 1974, 10 years out of law school and already a rising star from the Watergate hearings. Lenzner took his first step in a private practice, starting out as name partner in Truitt. Buckelin & Lenzner, a six-lawyer D.C. firm, Eighteen months later, the firm merged with D.C.’s Wald, Harkrader & Ross.
During his years at Wald, Harkrader, Lenzner emerged as a rainmaker, bringing in scores of big cases. He represented David Mugar, president of Boston’s Community Broadcasting, which was challenging the broadcasting license of RKO General Inc.’s multimillion dollar Boston television affiliate. Lenzner’s strategy was to convince the Federal Communications Commission that General Tire and Rubber Co., RKO General’s parent corporation, was unfit to hold the TV license.
He traveled to Chile to uncover alleged payments of bribes. Mugar, who obtained a broadcast license for the CBS Boston affiliate in 1982, now says he thinks the world of Terry Lenzner.
In 1979, Lenzner was called back up to Boston, this time by Francis Roache, then head of the Community Disorder Unit and now police commissioner, to investigate arson and firebombings by whites of minority families in East Boston public housing projects.
Next, Lenzner was southbound to Atlanta, to work on the grisly Atlanta child murders. Atlanta’s police commissioner, Lee Brown, caught wind of Lenzner’s successes in Boston and asked him to help set up a computer system to categorize clues concerning missing children and to develop a strategy for coordinating all law-enforcement efforts.
Dollars in the Pipeline
But Lenzner’s most celebrated investigation is still considered to be the nearly decade-long Alaska Pipeline case. In 1977, Lenzner was commissioned by the Alaska Pipeline Commission to look into cost overruns on the state’s oil-and-gas pipeline. He submitted a massive report to the commission finding $1.5 billion in cost overruns. He calls the case a classic example of pre-litigation investigation, something he says saves money in the long run despite large-scale investigation costs.
It was an enormous operation. Our people were living in Anchorage. We had to rent apartments, office space, Lenzner recalls. We interviewed townspeople, people who worked on the pipeline, experts on welding quality. We had 25 paralegals working on the case and the whole 12th floor filled with documents.
When the report was completed in 1977, Alaska retained Lenzner as special counsel in its suit against eight major oil companies. The litigation finally settled last year for more than $1 billion.
Lenzner reaped $12 million in fees for the Alaska investigation and litigation.
While the Alaska revenues no longer flow, he maintains that the seven lawyers who worked under him on the case are busy on other pieces of litigation. In a current big case, Lenzner is representing D.C. developer Conrad Cafritz, who, in the wake of the D.C. contracting scandal, is hoping to persuade the District’s Redevelopment Land Agency to strip a competing company of its contract with the city.
Since Lenzner’s modus operandi is to discover skeletons in the closets of competing companies, he is watching with care the FBI’s ongoing undercover investigation of D.C. contract awards. Cafritz refuses comment.
Lenzner also says the mergers and acquisitions work he has attracted through IGI has more than replaced the Alaska work. And the Alaska case could reopen if the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit finds the settlement unreasonable.
It was during the peak of the Alaska litigation in 1981 that Lenzner marched into offices at Wald, Harkrader to announce his departure from the firm, with a letter in his hand from the state of Alaska transferring its business to Lenzner and his new firm, Rogovin, Huge.
Lenzner denies that money was at the heart of his dispute with Wald, Harkrader. But he confirms that he wanted more input in firm management. The real issue was their decision to expand, and my arguments against that weren’t persuasive, he explains.
Robert Wald, whose firm has now merged with the D.C. office of Philadelphia’s Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz, says he was disappointed when Lenzner left. We valued him very highly as a colleague, says Wald.
Since the Wald, Harkrader contretemps, Lenzner has devoted himself to building his practice at Rogovin and expanding IGI. Yet some friends and colleagues say he is itching to get back into the government spotlight. He staunchly denies this.
Nevetheless, Lenzner’s name keeps surfacing for high-profile posts. During the Carter administration, he was mentioned as a darkhorse nominee for FBI director. Then in 1981, Lenzner was a finalist for the job as lead counsel during Senate confirmation hearings for former Secretary of State Alexander Haig Jr. Most recently, he was rumored to be under consideration for the job as chief counsel to the Senate select committee investigating the Iran-Contra scandal. But Lenzner says the committee never interviewed him for the job, which went to Arthur Liman.
A busy schedule and a summer cold did not prevent his recent appearance on the CBS Evening News to comment on the strategy of Brendan Sullivan Jr., the Williams & Connolly partner representing Lt. CoI. Oliver North. Because of his Watergate fame, the media often call on Lenzner to comment on congressional investigations.
Some of Lenzner’s colleagues wish he were participating. I would have liked to have seen Terry Lenzner on the Iran-Contra panel, says UPI’s Hanrahan. He would have zeroed in, been a lot more probing and tougher. Terry can be sort of unrelenting.
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