April 16, 2010
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Exercise allows accounting students to become honorary IRS special agents
Metro State accounting students used walkie-talkies in an on-campus exercise presented by the Adrian Project to explain duties of an undercover team. Photo by Jason Braddock.
Quick – what words come to mind when you think of accountants? Chances are good that gun toting, wire-tapping, undercover ops and backroom drug deals weren’t the first words on your list.
Earlier this month, eight special agents with the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS CI), along with 24 eager Metropolitan State College of Denver accounting students, succeeded in shattering stereotypes about the profession in a day-long simulated investigation of real-world fraud cases, called the Adrian Project.
The budding accountants became honorary IRS special agents for the day, complete with bulletproof vests, mock firearms, high-tech surveillance equipment and search warrants.
Accounting Professor Doug Laufer and IRS Special Agent Karen Gurgel brought the project to Metro State—the first time it’s been held in Colorado. “I did research to learn more, and it seemed like such a valuable learning experience for the students,” says Laufer, who learned of the Adrian Project while attending a fraud educators’ seminar. “The next bit of luck was that I met Karen, and we discussed bringing the project to the campus. I provided the students and the venue, and she put the event together.”
Held on college campuses nationwide, and founded nearly a decade ago at Adrian College in Michigan, the event is part of a continuing effort by the IRS to teach students about forensic accounting. Touted as the best financial investigators in the world, IRS CI follows the money trail in tax evasion that often involve money laundering, gambling and narcotics.
During the Adrian Project exercise, Metro State accounting students learned about high-tech surveillance equipment and search warrants. Photo by Jason Braddock.
As part of the project students investigated agents who posed as suspects, informants and unscrupulous accountants. The students learned what it was like to be part of an undercover team: how to interview informants so evidence would stand up in court; what it’s like to get wired up for sound; how to apply other surveillance techniques; and how to prepare evidence to secure affidavits for search and arrest warrants.
“Our goal is to bring the complaint challenged to a jury and secure a conviction,” Special Agent Matt Garth tells his group. “We need to carefully gather the evidence, investigate the case and determine if informants are telling the truth.”
Garth says allegations don’t necessarily mean there’s a case. “For example we need to know the informant’s motivations and if he perhaps has an ax to grind.”
A student in Garth’s group, Pam Samuel, jumped at the chance to be wired for sound to interview a mock suspect. “It was an awesome experience,” says Samuel, 29, who will graduate this May with a certificate in accounting to add to her bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Samuel says the most exciting part came after the judge approved the search warrant. “Our group got a briefing, some toy guns and bullet-proof vests, and then we burst into the house (a classroom) to search for incriminating evidence,” says Samuel. “We looked just like they do on TV when they raid a house.”
Another scenario involved an undercover agent who bought drugs from a small-time dealer to get him to reveal his source once he was charged with tax fraud.
Garth says it’s not unusual for the Drug Enforcement Agency to request the IRS CI unit help bring drug dealers to justice by proving tax evasion.
And if any doubts linger about how important the IRS is in bringing criminals to justice, remember, an accountant helped nab Al Capone.