It was 9 a.m. when four groups of IRS special agents were already in the third phase of their criminal investigation. The 20 agents, led by veteran coaches, analyzed the background checks, criminal records, real estate documents and tax returns of four different organizations that seemed to be scheming together in a terrorist finance plot. The agents pored over the documents, looking for any evidence proving that illegal activity may be happening behind the scenes of the businesses in question.
Each team then reported their findings to the entire group, revealing links between the suspects: purchasing real estate on the same day for the same amount and living at the same gym at different points in time. Other details, such as outrageous consulting fees, unaccounted-for charitable donations and misinformation on tax returns gave the agents enough ammunition to open a full-blown investigation.
Even with all this evidence, the agents were still advised to “dig further and make a decision about what to do next.” One crucial fact would eventually push the case forward: all of the suspects used the same accountant. The special agents knew that their next step would have to be an interview with the accountant.
The agents prepared questions about the suspicious pieces of information and selected one to lead the questioning. Before setting off for the office of Returns ‘R’ Us, the veteran agents gave them some vital advice. “He will most likely be aggressive and reluctant to cooperate. Remember to remain cordial but firm and to be prepared for anything.”
In reality, however, these “agents” – all Rider University students – were not headed to an actual office, but to a room just one floor away from their “headquarters,” where an actor playing a scheming accountant waited to be interviewed. These “agents” were not agents at all, but students participating in the Internal Revenue Service’s Adrian Project.
These 20 students from Rider’s College of Business Administration worked alongside IRS special agents on March 25 in this interactive learning experience developed by the IRS’ Criminal Investigation Division, to unravel a white-collar crime using forensic accounting techniques. This was the second year in a row that Rider was chosen as the lone New Jersey representative to take part in the daylong mock investigation.
The students were divided into four teams, each with a actual special agent to serve as a coach, guide and source of information, while other agents played the roles of witnesses, suspects, and accountants. After being sworn in as honorary agents for the day, the students got down to work, interviewing suspects and witnesses, analyzing documents and tax forms, learning defensive tactics, presenting evidence, filing subpoenas, and writing arrest warrants. From these various activities, the students got an inside look of how an undercover team of the Criminal Investigation Division actually functions.
While the students gleaned a lot of new information, they also got a chance to apply the knowledge they gain in class every day. “Our class covers a lot of this same information, but this is a real world experience of those concepts,” said Casey Albrecht, a sophomore Accounting major. “It’s really cool to be able to see how to use what we’re taught in an actual situation.”
During the investigation, the students not only used information they had learned from class and the special agents, but found each other to be invaluable sources of information. Working together within each group, the students bounced ideas off of each other, using their varied perspectives to understand documents, make connections, and develop strategies of action. Full participation from each student was required in order for the team to be successful.
Special Agent Rob Glantz, who facilitated the event, stressed the importance of participation to the students. “Don’t be afraid to raise a point or ask a question,” he said. “This is an educational experience, and participation is the only way everyone can learn from it.”
After hours of investigation, each team was required to present their case to a judge in order to be granted arrest warrants for the suspects. With warrants in hand, each team then had to make an arrest in a dramatic final showdown.
The entire day was filled with unique experiences that every student seemed to enjoy. “It’s definitely more fun and exciting than sitting in class on a Friday,” said Brendan Lynch, a sophomore Accounting major. “This experience is definitely one I will remember; not just because I had fun, but because it’s another option of something I may want to do after graduation.”