Mason Students Team Up with IRS in Fraud Investigation Exercise

Posted: February 24, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jennifer Edgerly and Catherine Ferraro

It’s commonly known that crime syndicate boss Al Capone was involved in the smuggling and bootlegging of liquor and other illegal activities in 1920s and 1930s Prohibition-era Chicago.

However, it wasn’t these criminal activities that eventually led to his arrest and the end of his illicit career. Ultimately, it was the work of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division (IRS – CID) that led to Capone being indicted and convicted by the federal government for tax evasion.

Last week, 40 School of Management students partnered with today’s IRS – CID agents to learn what it takes to convict a criminal like Al Capone.

The program, known as the Adrian Project, allowed students in the Accounting Honors Program and those pursuing an accounting certificate to become honorary special agents for the day and join current IRS – CID special agents in solving a mock fraud case. This is the first time Mason has participated in the program.

accounting class with IRS agents
Students in the Accounting Honors Program met with IRS – CID agents to solve a mock fraud case.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

“One of the goals of the Accounting Honors Program is to expose students to the many possible careers available to them with an accounting degree from Mason,” says Anne Magro, associate professor of accounting and director of the Accounting Honors Program.

“The Adrian Project is a unique opportunity for accounting students to explore the possibility of a career in criminal justice and learn about the inner workings of fraud investigation through the eyes of an IRS special agent.”

During the exercise, students were split up into groups to perform the investigation, which took several hours to complete. The simulation began with an informant reporting suspicious activity to IRS – CID special agents and allowed the students to use the forensic accounting tools available to federal law enforcement officers. Throughout the investigation, students got to play the roles of informant, special agents, undercover agents and ultimately, arresting agents.

“This was definitely a worthwhile use of our time today. It was really interesting to see how accounting can be used within the law enforcement context,” says Mason junior Benjamin Smith.

“I had heard of the criminal investigation division previously, but I didn’t know exactly what they did,” Smith says. “Going through this exercise, and being picked to be one of the undercover agents, was a really fun experience and has definitely piqued my interest in the IRS.”

Since the program’s inception in 2002 at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan, this type of exercise has spread to more than 18 states. The program is part of a continuing effort by the IRS to show that the agency does more than collect taxes. During the workshops, students learn how both criminal justice and accounting are key elements to this type of law enforcement.

“We hope to expose students, through an interactive learning experience, to the inner workings of a tax fraud investigation through the eyes of an IRS – CID special agent,” says C. André Martin, IRS – CID special agent in charge.

“The students were able to use the knowledge they have gained through their accounting education from George Mason University and apply it to a real-life situation.”

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