SHU faculty members Laura Bearden (far left), Donna Baker (second from left) and Linda Campbell (second from right) worked with IRS agents during a mock investigation on campus Jan. 12.
The IRS at SHU
Usually it is not good news when the Internal Revenue Service comes to town. Especially when it brings 10 agents. But when the IRS arrived at Siena Heights University Jan. 12, it was very good news for accounting and criminal justice students.
Led by IRS Special Agent Stephen Moore, the agents, some retired and some active, provided students with a little insight on what goes on during IRS criminal investigations – even coaching them through a mock investigation.
SHU Associate Professor of Accounting Donna Baker coordinated the IRS’s arrival at Siena. Baker heard about the program at a conference, and contacted Moore several times to try to bring the program to Siena. Persistence paid off, as Siena Heights was just one of five sites selected this year by the IRS to conduct such exercises. In fact, there is often a three-year waiting list.
A reason it is so difficult to book the program is partially because of the enormous resources the IRS must dedicate to conduct the mock investigation. Of Michigan’s 60 total active IRS criminal investigators, seven participated in the presentation at Siena Heights.
The program is primarily geared towards students pursuing either accounting or criminal justice degrees. However, students from other majors were also welcome, as were some students from Spring Arbor University.
To provide background, Moore taught students some of the different methods agents use to gather information about and investigate their suspects. Some methods are a bit surprising, such as searching through the suspects’ trash. But other methods, such as seizing computers and checking bank records, are more conventional. And of course, Moore detailed perhaps the most mysterious and intriguing investigative method of all – going undercover.
After agents explained how they do their jobs, they invited students to participate in a mock investigation. Students were divided into groups, and each group was assigned to an IRS agent who worked closely with them throughout the activity. All groups were given the same case and the same evidence and were asked to determine if there was enough evidence present to make an arrest.
While in their individual groups, students discussed the case with their coaching agent, who shared real case stories that were relative to the case at hand. After roughly an hour of discussion, the groups reassembled to compare findings. At that time, it was determined there was not enough evidence to arrest the suspect, and that they needed to send in an undercover agent.
A couple students posed as undercover agents and were instructed to interview the “suspect,” pretending they were interested in buying his business. By asking the right questions, they were able to convince the suspect to unknowingly confess to his crimes. The entire scenario took place in the next room, but thanks to a special video hook-up, the rest of the students and agents watched from their seats.
Baker said this was truly a valuable and insightful hands-on experience for all students involved.