Students cuff tax 'cheats' in mock IRS criminal investigation

A special simulation recently gave a group of University of Oregon accounting students a chance to crack a tax fraud case from the start of an investigation all the way to slapping on the cuffs.

The event uses role-playing to show accounting students how their interest in problem-solving could translate into a career as an IRS special agent. It was organized by University of Oregon Beta Alpha Psi — an honor group for finance and accounting students — and the Internal Revenue Service, and sponsored by Jones & Roth CPAs and Business Advisors.

During the exercise each student group is assigned a potential fraud to investigate as part of a mock case, with actual IRS criminal investigation agents guiding them. Faculty play the roles of the criminal and the criminal’s associates. After hearing from agents and experts, including Assistant U.S. Attorney Gavin Bruce from the Justice Department’s Eugene office, students gear up — literally — for an ambush arrest.

“This is an amazing resource,” said Andrew Switzer, a student participant and Beta Alpha Psi vice president of communication. “In the case I was in, there were three cases going simultaneously, and we developed and built up evidence, everything we needed to get a warrant for our respective cases. Then, we put all the documents together and made a combined effort to relate the cases to one another. The agents really let us know what they do in their day-to-day lives. This was a great simulation.”

While a career with a major accounting firm is the right route for many accountants, participants in the event got a glimpse of a different path where they could apply their accounting skills and interests in ways they may not have considered.

“I really appreciated this experience,” said student Casey Tevlin. “Coming into the Master of Accounting program, I knew I wanted to do either forensic accounting or tax, and this was kind of the perfect combination. It was also really reassuring that this is actually a possible career for me in the future.”

UO Beta Alpha Psi President Sarah Luginbill worked with the organization’s officers to coordinate the event with the IRS.

She said she was pleased with the great turnout and the thoughtful approach both the students and IRS agents took toward the exercise. Watching the students react in real time, with the IRS experts providing on-the-spot support and insight, illustrated the value of the partnership and made all the planning worth it, she said.

“The students were fantastic; they were engaged, worked hard all day and had fun. We couldn't ask for a better group,” said IRS Special Agent Jon Gee. “Hopefully we will see some of them join our agency as special agents in the near future. Wherever their professional careers lead them, it is very apparent that the staff and faculty at Lundquist College of Business have set these students up for great success.”

—By AnneMarie Knepper-Sjoblom, Lundquist College of Business
Top photo: Students conduct a mock arrest as part of the simulated investigation.