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Forensic Accountant: Fraud Buster

In: Business and Management

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Using Teams in Production and Operations Management:
Forensic Accountants: Fraud Busters.


Class: Bus 508:

Contemporary Business

Date: 13 November 2012

Abstract: A case study for the Strayer University, Woodbridge, VA, Business 508 class, this paper provides for a brief review of 1) The skills that a forensic accountant requires; 2) The role of the forensic accountant in the courtroom; 3) The legal responsibilities of the forensic accountant; and lastly, 4) The role of the forensic accountant in a couple of major accounting fraud scandals.

The world of Accounting has seen several major scandals since the early 1990s. These include major accounting failures such as Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, Tyco, Phar-Mor, Cendant, Computer Associates, AOL, Freddie Mac, ImClone, Qwest Communications, Royal Ahold, Health South Corporation, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and most recently the Olympus Corporation. Some of these have resulted in the collapse and dissolution of the company – Enron, Adelphia; others have resulted in a major restructuring of the company – AOL, AIG, Freddie Mac. Whatever the result, they have all been caused by accounting fraud – either “cooking the books” to hide major losses or to hide the theft of funds. It has also resulted in the failure and absorption of the one of the Big Five Accounting firms – Arthur Anderson. Besides the whistle blower who brought most of these to public view and the lawyers who have been involved their dismantling one of the other major role players, though unsung and unknown, has been the Forensic Accountant. We will be taking a look at this last individual or groups of individuals in most cases. We will look at what they do, their “required” skills and role in courtroom and possibly examine their role in a couple of the noted scandals.
The Forensic Account
What is a forensic accountant? Bolgna and Linquist (1995) defined forensic accounting as the application of financial skills and an investigative mentality to unresolved issues, conducted within the context of the rules of evidence. In 2011, a definition in Accountancy Ireland, noted: “Forensic accounting has been defined as "the science of gathering and presenting financial information in a form that will be accepted by a court of jurisprudence against perpetrators of economic crimes". The field integrates accounting, auditing and investigative competences to detect and prevent financial irregularities in business. (Idowa, 2011). As the field grows, this definition and information will continue to evolve.
But what are the skills that the Forensic Account requires? d’Ath (2008) notes them as including the following: 1) Thoroughness, 2) Curiosity, 3) Creativity, 4) Credibility, 5) Being articulate, 6) Awareness of laws and regulations. Others include things such as: a disbelief that the numbers as presented are correct – almost an inherent belief that they are hiding something. As noted by Crumbley and Apostolou (2005), Robert Roche describes a forensic accountant as someone “who can look behind the façade—not accept the records at their face value—someone who has a suspicious mind that [considers that] the documents he or she is looking at may not be what they purport to be and someone who has the expertise to go out and conduct very detailed interviews of individuals to develop the truth, especially if some are presumed to be lying.” Forensic accounting often involves an exhaustive, detailed effort to penetrate concealment tactics. Not really a very trusting fellow.
But what does a forensic account need to know? Well in the United States, he or she should be well versed in accounting, possibly even a CPA; have some legal training, especially in the various privacy laws: Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Privacy Act of 1974, the Family Educational Rights to Privacy Act (FERPA), and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). He or she should also have a background in computer sciences with knowledge of Advance Information Systems (AIS). The need to examine not only paper files but also computer files and communications all require background in the noted areas. There are certifications available for the forensic accountant. They are the CrFA – Certified Forensic Accountant and the CFAP – Certified Forensic Accounting Professional. What does the legal side of this profession look like?
The Forensic Account in the Courtroom and in your Business
They also need to be above reproach in their knowledge and ethics as they may be called to testify as an expert witness in court cases. They must be able to talk about and explain complex financial data and calculations to a judge or a group of individuals “off the street” who have no knowledge or background in most of the noted fields. Per Curtis (2005), as far as lawyers are concerned forensic accounting is the application of accounting tasks for an evidentiary purpose.
It has been defined with greater precision as ‘‘the action of identifying, recording, settling, extracting, sorting, reporting, and verifying past financial data or other accounting activities for settling current or prospective legal disputes or using such past financial data for projecting future financial data to settle legal disputes.’’ Forensic accountants are essential to the legal system, providing expert services such as net worth valuations in divorce proceedings; asset valuations in bankruptcy matters; financial statement analysis in securities and tax cases; and the analysis of financial documents in fraud schemes. The data that the forensic accountant collects must be admissible in a court of law hence to the need for the knowledge of privacy laws and legal training. All the evidence in the world will do the prosecutor no good if they can’t present it. The forensic accountant must also come off a personable, knowledge individual without seeming to talk down to the court and jury.
While in a business, the forensic accountant needs to understand, that without a court granted subpoena, that his or her right to access computer information, question people or rummage through files may limited by law to that access granted by the owner or directors/CEO of the business or his/her direct representative and that even this access may be limited by the privacy laws noted above. Everything must be documented, copies made and originals secured --- all those things that you do in a normal criminal case.

Enron and Adelphia and the Role of the Forensic Accountant
At this point we will take a quick look at the role of the forensic accountant in two of the accounting scandals from since the year 2000 – Enron and Adelphia. Enron was an energy company that cooked its books to make it profits and balance sheet look better than it was. Basically Enron formed special purpose entities (SPEs) to help it obtain off-the-balance sheet financing. At that time this was a normal and legal activity. Enron however used them to move moves money and stock to and fro, to build up account and notes receivable, to inflate service revenue and to hide excess payment to some of its officers. Adelphia was a telecommunications company that provided phone, cable and internet services. Adelphia was initially a family owned business that went public. Unfortunately for the company and its employees, the owners, the Rigas, used it for a personal bank account. They had the personal “servants” – chefs, maintenance personnel, drivers listed as company employees. They made “loans” to themselves from the company to buy gold courses, jets, field naming rights, mansions, etc. and then tried to hide to loans on the books of various subsidiaries.
In Enron’s case, the problems were exposed by a senior accounting official in a memo to the board. Adelphia’s fall came when a financial reporter asked a question at the end of a quarterly report call concerning some off-the-books loans on the subsidiaries books. In both cases, when the collapse was complete or nearly so, a team of forensic accountants as brought in to identify all the issues, identify lost money, who was responsible and how it happened. For each group it required the examination of accounting records – paper and computer; the records and minutes of directors, CEO and CFO meetings; the documentation approved by the board of directors, CEO and CFO concerning separation of duties, due diligence requirements, tracking of purchase requests, approvals and payments, etc. Basically they had to rebuild and trace all the major functions and activities of the Board, the CEO, CFO, the SPEs and subsidiaries; trace the movement of money, property, stock and personnel, and in the case Enron, the possible manipulation of the energy market to support its needs. All in all they forensic accounts had their work cut out for them.
So from a humble and almost unidentified start a couple of thousand years ago to the first time the term forensic accountant was used in 1946 to now, 2012, the forensic accountant has undergone quite a bit of change and growth. Given the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley and greed of people, the need for forensic accountants will grow. The ability to identify and track illegal accounting activity has grown to be a major financial function in today’s world – one for which we are all paying.

Apostolou, N. G., & Crumbley, L. (2005). The Expanding Role of the Forensic Accountant. Forensic Examiner, 14(3), 39-43.
Bolgna, J. G., & Linquist, R. J. (1995). Fraud auditing and forensic accounting. New York: Wiley.
Curtis, G. E. (2008). Legal and Regulatory Environments and Ethics: Essential Components of a Fraud and Forensic Accounting Curriculum. Issues in Accounting Education, 23(4), 535-543. d’Ath, J. (2008). Forensic accounting is here to stay. Chartered Accountants Journal, 87(3), 12-14.
Idowu, S. (2011). SO YOU WANT TO BE A FORENSIC ACCOUNTANT?. Accountancy Ireland, 43 (6), 65-66,

Five Guys Burgers and Fries (2012, October 23). About Us. Retrieved from Five Guys Burger and Fries: Http://

Five Guys Burgers and Fries (2012, October 23). About Us. Retrieved from Five Guys Burger and Fries: Http://

Joiner, L. (2012, July 20; updated 2012, August 2). Five Guys found simple recipe for success: Do it right. Retrieved from USA Today, Money:

Murrell, J. (2012, October 23). 5 Reason Why Five Guys is a Big Success. Retrieved from Inc.:

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