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Cannot change Contact owner

We have several old contact records that were mistakenly created years ago with no Account.  They are owned by inactive users.  I am attempting to reassign ownership so that I can then link them to an Account.  However, when I try to change Owner to an active user, I get the following error message:


Unable to Access Page
Invalid value: common.ownership.CannotReparentRecordException 

Error: The value of the parameter specified above contains a character that is not allowed or the value exceeds the maximum allowed length. Remove the character from the parameter value or reduce the value length and re-submit. If the error still persists, please report it to our Customer Support team and provide the URL of the page you were requesting as well as any other related information. 


I am of course sysadmin with full data modify-all-data permissions.  So what's going on here?


I have submitted a case to support but so far they don't know what's wrong.  Anyone seen this before?