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Investigating Fraud

Clay Williams (MACC, 2012) remained in character complete with dark sunglasses, tossing a signed baseball, ignoring my questions or changing the subject at random.  Clay was not preparing for a stage performance, but rather an interview for Marsha Keune’s ACCT 736 – MACC Assurance course.  As the self-promoting former pro baseball player, Phil Ackers, he provided Professor Keune’s students with the unique opportunity to interrogate a “fraudster” as part of a classroom experience without the pressure of a real-life confession riding on their technique.  Marty McClellan (MACC, 2013) ‘played’ Acker’s nephew, Julian Roper, who is the more ‘innocent’ party of the fraud-intent duo.  In sharp contrast to worldly and sly Ackers, Roper is a college student who is willing to do almost anything to impress his uncle and make a little money.  Under interrogation, however, he is not quite as calm and collected as Ackers.

What prompted Williams and McClellan to participate in Professor Keune’s classroom drama?  McClellan, who will soon join Bauknight, Pietras & Stormer, CPAs states that his primary goal was to “give back” and remain involved with the program that provided him with the education he values today.  Williams, who works at the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, also enjoys giving back to the educational community and states that since his undergraduate degree was in Philosophy, he has the unique advantage of being able to “cut through the B.S.”  He jokingly adds, “And I only work eight blocks from the University!”  When they were asked how they believe this type of learning environment benefits the students they replied that the activity “humanized” the process for the students, allowing them to brainstorm strategy, practice gathering evidence, and explore methods of obtaining a confession from the alleged fraudsters.

Both Williams and McClellan enjoyed showing off their body language, verbal and visual cues that they used to confuse their interrogators.  There is no doubt that they enjoyed being the “bad guys” for one day!

But what do Professor Keune’s ACCT 736 students think about the project?  Christina Robin states that the project was “challenging and fun!”  She went on to explain that interviewing potential fraud suspects requires a different perspective and skill set than the usual student must employ.  Additionally, the fraudsters with whom they had to deal were “convincing; good actors!”  Robin found that the interview experience had more benefits than the average case study.  The interviewing team had to rely on team efforts to determine how to present their evidence, strategize their approach, and maintain control of the interviews.  “Thinking outside of the box” was a requirement for the students, and the experience has Robin “looking forward to real-life interviews.”  She will be graduating from the MACC program in May 2014 and has accepted a position at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Charlotte, NC.

Isaiah Trillo says that the two actors provided to very different scenarios with which the students had to contend.  McClellan (Julian, the nephew) was very reserved and almost stubborn in how he guarded the information he could provide; whereas, Williams (Phil, pro ballplayer) was very charismatic and talkative, sometimes to the point of being distracting.  One of the benefits such an experience provides, according to Trillo, is the experience of seeing such a case through from start to finish.  The team had to determine the facts, analyze financial data, determine the fraud, make inquiries to gain evidence, and interview the suspects.  Trillo’s team even hired a ‘private investigator’!  When their initial interview tactics didn’t work, they had to change their approach to get what they needed to prove their case.  Trillo graduates from the MACC program in August 2014 and has accepted a position with KPMG in Greenville, SC in their Audit division.

Earlier in the semester, Professor Keune’s students engaged in a “forensic audit” of a company’s financial records, resulting in electronic inquiries of company representatives to obtain evidence about possible fraudulent transactions taking place within the company.  Interviewing the alleged fraudsters was the next step in following through with a fraud investigation with grades rather than dollar signs attached to the outcome.  This is just one example of how School of Accounting professors engage students to provide them with the best possible education.  Accounting faculty are well-aware that all learning is not accomplished between the covers of a book or in the confines of a classroom, and they do their best to encourage their students to explore all avenues in their quest for knowledge.