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Students play special agents

As part of a mock money-​​laundering case on campus last Friday, third-​​year crim­inal jus­tice major Nic­colo Coia ana­lyzed tax returns, applied for a search war­rant and arrested a drug dealer named Terry Smack for selling cocaine to an under­cover agent.

The Internal Rev­enue Ser­vice Crim­inal Inves­ti­ga­tion unit designed the exer­cise, which was one in a series of all-​​day mock inves­ti­ga­tions dubbed the “Adrian Project.” Twenty accounting and crim­inal jus­tice stu­dents from North­eastern, Suf­folk Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of Mass­a­chu­setts Boston formed five teams. They were chal­lenged to solve cases of tax eva­sion, money laun­dering and drug traf­ficking by exam­ining public records, con­ducting inter­views and inter­ro­gating suspects.

The goal of the exer­cise was to increase the interest of stu­dents in inves­ti­gating fraud through forensic accounting. “I’ve always been inter­ested in becoming a field agent,” Coia said prior to sur­veilling a short, dark-​​haired sus­pect around campus with the help of a two-​​way radio. “I wanted to see if I was inter­ested in forensic accounting.”

The spe­cial agent who facil­i­tated the money laun­dering case called mock inves­ti­ga­tions an exer­cise in crit­ical thinking. “Stu­dents,” he said, “got a good under­standing of what spe­cial agents do and how they go about iden­ti­fying and catching criminals.”

The mock cases gave stu­dents a quick lesson in human nature, noted Charlie Bame-​​Aldred, an assis­tant pro­fessor of accounting in the Col­lege of Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion, whose research focuses on auditing and fraud inves­ti­ga­tion. “From seem­ingly innocuous events, bad things can happen,” said Bame-​​Aldred, who did not par­tic­i­pate in the exer­cise. “Some people go through life thinking bad things like this don’t happen, but that’s just not the case.”

In his intro­duc­tory remarks, John Collins, assis­tant spe­cial agent in charge of the IRS Crim­inal Inves­ti­ga­tion Unit’s Boston field office, encour­aged stu­dents to think and act like spe­cial agents.

“We want you to be curious and ask ques­tions,” he told them. “Be cre­ative and think out­side the box.”

Coia took Collins’ cue, assessing the money-​​laundering case midway through the inves­ti­ga­tion. “Smack didn’t file any tax returns, but he’s prob­ably selling drugs to buy his Jeep Wran­gler,” he explained. “He’s def­i­nitely obtaining and hiding money illegally.”

– by Jason Kornwitz

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