Forensic accounting students raid WVU Crime Scene Complex
If there was a TV show at the College of Business and Economics, it would be called “CSI-F.” That would stand for CSI Financial, part of the accounting program that demonstrates a different version of CSI than most people are familiar with.
Instead of looking for blood splatter and missing persons, forensic accountants dig through crime scenes for hard drives, hard copy documents and any other data in order to crack a case.
A group of 34 students from B&E attended CSI-F in late June, which was crucial to the curriculum and to their growth as rising forensic accountants. The event was the first to include all students in the master of professional accountancy (MPA) program in addition to forensic accounting students – and the first time that the program was held in the evening.
Franco Frande, chief of the Financial Investigative Services division at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), said he got involved with the program at 11 years ago when WVU received a grant from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to develop the curriculum.
“The DOJ gave the University a grant to develop the first-ever curriculum in forensic accounting, right after the Enron scandal, when it was clear just how easy it was to perpetrate data,” Frande said. “The goal was, if we can start teaching college students about fraud examination and investigation skills as they go through an accounting curriculum, that it would be an investment in the future.
The students receive an education in accounting, as well as investigative and legal components, Frande said.
“Studying to be a forensic accountant at WVU is a combination of those three aspects: the students are part accountant, part police officer and part lawyer. It gives the students a career choice – what they want to do and how they want to do it.”
Dr. Richard Riley, Louis F. Tanner Distinguished Professor of Public Accounting, stressed the importance of Frande and the rest of the crew providing hands-on teaching to students and enhancing what they could do in their future careers.
“I can describe to these students in the classroom what these people do, but they come here and describe what they live every day,” Riley said. “CSI-F is a great opportunity for them to learn from the professionals just exactly what it’s like, how thorough they have to be, and how seriously they need to take their education.”
Members of the department from both the Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., offices joined Frande in taking the students through the program. The evening’s events included the students being sworn in with ATF raid shirts to simulate a real-life experience, being given a search warrant to investigate the houses in groups of four, and making sure to scrub the area for every hint of evidence.
“They really have to work together to dissect the room, and make sure that there is no stone left unturned,” Riley said. “Afterward, they get to experience how law enforcement gathers information and how to present it, and, ultimately, at the end of the semester they’ll participate in a court exercise.”
Megan Miller, MPA student from Fairfax County, Virginia, said it was important for her and the rest of the students to learn from officials who do this every day as their life’s work.
“For the students in the class that are hands-on learners, this experience is even better because we’re getting to apply what we’re learning,” Miller said. “This program has taught us all what kinds of things happen every day on the job for these people, and the different career options that we have in front of us as future accountants.”
Frande said that while other universities and colleges request the ATF team to come in and perform bits and pieces of the program occasionally, WVU has always had the largest turnout and interest from students.
“WVU’s program is too good for us to ever pass up the chance to come and work with the students,” Frande said. “It’s absolutely the best program of any school in terms of what it does for the students, and what the program has accomplished. It’s phenomenal.
“Every time I come here to teach a program, I wish I were 22 instead of 52, and that I could’ve started my career out doing this rather than only getting into the business 18 years ago as chief. These students have a great opportunity on their hands.”
Studying forensic accounting at WVU has only gotten increasingly more popular over the years, which is reflected in the addition of a new forensic and fraud examination (FFE) master’s program, which will begin this fall.
“We are seeing more and more people that are already a few years into their accounting careers that are coming to us wanting this advanced degree,” Riley said. “They’ll say that they’ve been doing auditing work for two to five years, but want to switch into this more exciting career – and that’s something we like to hear. It really is an emerging field in private practice, too, hiring people with skillsets more than just the regular accounting curriculum.”
To learn more about the program, visit http://be.wvu.edu/fafe/index.htm.