Jim Leusner is a longtime investigator in Central Florida, spending nearly 30 years as a reporter at the Orlando Sentinel. He retired in July 2008 to form his own private investigation, research and media company, Jim Leusner Consulting LLC. He recently has worked for the Associated Press, Orlando Magazine, various law firms and private companies.
At the Sentinel, he served as an investigative, legal affairs, criminal justice and general assignment reporter, covering many high-profile local, state, national and international stories. Leusner is an award-winning, nationally known investigative reporter, lecturer and instructor. As a private investigator, he specializes in covertly locating and gathering information on civil legal targets, witnesses and companies. He also performs due diligence and background checks, in addition to other specialized services.
During his reporting career, Leusner’s stories appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times and countless other publications. He probed government corruption, the 2000 Florida election re-count, business, land development, municipal bonds, college sports scandals, and the history of Orlando’s tourist corridor. He chronicled the drug war, motorcycle gangs, right-wing militias, serial killers, terrorism and homeland security. Leusner also investigated two space shuttle disasters and NASCAR safety and the death of racing legend Dale Earnhardt.
His assignments have taken him to the White House and the halls of Congress; CIA, FBI, NSA, NRO and DEA headquarters; aboard Coast Guard cutters and U.S. Customs radar planes; and to Florida’s Death Row.
From 1980 to 1998 and 2006 to 2008, he covered the criminal justice system, mainly based on the federal law enforcement/courts beat. He observed hundreds of federal and state criminal and civil trials — and countless hearings.
His stories and investigations included the 1980 ABSCAM congressional corruption scandal; the Champ Williams tax-evasion probe; the space shuttle Challenger and Columbia disasters; the land dealings of millionaire developer Jeno Paulucci; the controversial activities of Orlando’s Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation; Martin-Marietta Corporation’s secret missile-building operations in South Orlando; and the Puerto Rico-to-Orlando heroin pipeline and secret witness relocation program. He has written extensively on serial killers Ted Bundy, Christopher Wilder and Danny Rolling, and Outlaws Motorcycle Club enforcer Joseph “Crazy Joe” Spaziano.
From 1999 to early 2006, he was assigned to the Sentinel’s Special Projects (Investigative) Team probing land development and the use of tax-exempt, community development district bonds; Florida’s 2000 presidential election crisis; the formation of the nation’s homeland security strategy; NASCAR safety; the business activities of Orlando souvenir shop magnate Jesse Maali; the evolution of the International Drive tourist corridor; and the Orlando Police Department’s use of Taser weapons.
From 2006 to 2008, he served as the legal affairs reporter covering Orlando and Orange County’s rising murders and violence; misconduct by state judges, and massive fraud schemes of ex-music mogul Lou Pearlman and Mirabilis Ventures Inc. chief strategist Frank L. Amodeo.
Leusner, 56, has lectured for nearly three decades on investigative reporting, news reporting, public records and the law, media relations and ethics. He has addressed various journalism schools, media outlets, civic groups, law enforcement agencies, Florida Bar conferences, continuing education seminars and Investigative Reporters & Editors Inc. He has been interviewed on numerous local and national radio and television news shows including WFTV-Channel 9, Central Florida News 13, CNN, Court TV, the BBC, ESPN, A&E’s American Justice and the History Channel’s Gangland programs.
He contributed to four journalism text books: Professional News Writing; Professional News Reporting; Advanced Reporting: Skills for the Professional; and Professional Feature Writing, all by University of Miami Professor Bruce Garrison; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1990-94. In addition, he served as a regular instructor for the Orlando Sentinel’s in-house training programs and mentor to numerous reporters since the early 1980s.
Leusner and reporting teams to which he was assigned won many local, state and national honors. They included two of the Top 30 Freedom of Information stories published in Florida during the past 30 years, as ranked in September 2007 by the University of Florida’s Brechner Center. (The stories cited were the 2001 NASCAR/Earnhardt investigation and the 2000 Government Inc. bond/land development series.)
Other honors: the 2001 Gerald Loeb Award, one of the nation’s top citations for financial and business reporting; the 2002 Scripps Howard Foundation’s Distinguished Service to the First Amendment Award; the 2001 Associated Press Sports Editors Best News Story Award; and the 2001 Florida Press Club’s Frances DeVore Award for Public Service.
His memberships include the Florida Association of Licensed Investigators; Investigative Reporters & Editors Inc., the National Press Club, the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, Naval Intelligence Professionals and the National Military Intelligence Association.
He has been a licensed Florida private investigator since 1996.