Spokane police Detective Stacey Carr finally has somewhere to turn when she can’t investigate an office embezzlement or a case of identity theft inside a local company.
Carr’s one of three city fraud detectives. But all three, she said, lack the accounting skills to track down evidence to nail an employee cheating a company.
This year, however, Carr is getting help from a dozen accounting students from Gonzaga University. In a new program called the Justice for Fraud Victims Project, three supervised student teams gather the paperwork needed so a business owner can recover money, plus help law enforcement prosecute the criminals.
The project joins certified forensic accountants, local detectives and prosecutors, and GU faculty and students.
“This program gives us a tool to go after suspects preying on small businesses and nonprofits. Most owners usually don’t have the money to pay for their own forensic investigation” of fraud, Carr said.
Large multimillion-dollar fraud cases end up with the local FBI office or the U.S. attorney. What’s not done is careful investigation of frauds hitting mom-and-pop businesses in the area, said K. Jill Bolton, an assistant U.S. attorney who tracks white-collar crime in Eastern Washington.
It was Bolton who came up with the student project idea while talking with Sara Melendy, an assistant accounting professor.
They then rounded up support from law enforcement, GU administrators and the Spokane chapter of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
Marie Rice, the president of the Spokane chapter, recruited three area forensic accountants – Lenore Romney, Lisa Jangaard and Shelley Heston – to supervise the 12 GU seniors and graduate students.
“Without Gonzaga’s faculty, this program would not exist,” Rice said. “Stacey and I have talked for over three years that we are frustrated that many victims don’t see justice because the cases can’t be investigated,” she said.
Rice said professional forensic accountants charge $100 to $250 per hour, a fee most victimized businesses are unwilling to pay.
In the GU program, the three supervisors carefully review the scope and ethics of forensic accounting. But the students do the legwork of examining books, comparing ledger records, tracking expenses and reviewing credit card and bank accounts.
Melendy said the hope is that the program will continue. “We’d like to develop this (course) into a center for forensic accounting. We’d like to make it a continuing resource to help the community.”