A paper chase that can document crime

New case-based course brings real life experience to students

Guest lecturer Cindy Park leads students in a discussion about forensic accounting.

Guest lecturer and forensic accountant Cindy Park from PCG Consultants shows the students in a case studies-based forensic accounting course her foremost weapon—a magnifying glass. Park is team teaching the course with other colleagues from PCG and Guidance Software, Inc., as well as professors Dan Roth (pictured in back right) and Kathryn Hansen.

When Cindy Park describes her work, she says, she is equal parts “bean counter” and sleuth.

She can spend months—even years sometimes—scrutinizing balance sheets, profits and losses, and financial statements for anomalies. But, she may also dig through trash bins, visit businesses, and interview employees in a hunt to find documents and facts that reveal a crime.

Park is a forensic accountant; she specializes in detecting financial fraud, investigating books, and proving allegations of embezzlement, insider dealings and other fiscal crimes.

“It’s this investigative, PI type of work in accounting,” Park explained. “It’s an art…you utilize the black and white methods of accounting to discover the truth.”

Headshot of Paul White ’56.

To learn about forensic accounting from College of Business and Economics 2006 Distinguished Alumnus Paul White ’56 visit, http://cbe.calstatela.edu/
PaulWhite.php
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This quarter, Park is sharing her insights about the field with 20 advanced Cal State L.A. business and accounting students. She is one of a team of professionals from PCG Consultants and Guidance Software, Inc., partnering with College of Business and Economics faculty, to design and teach the University’s first case-based forensic accounting course.

The idea for the class came from Accounting Department Chair Greg Kunkel who, with faculty members Dan Ryan and Kathryn Hansen, developed a goal of providing students with an accurate picture of job opportunities and day-to-day work in the field.

“It’s my favorite class that I have ever taken,” said accounting student Cindy Dean, while standing outside of class one evening. “I think the material is interesting and I like that it is team taught by professionals.”

A fellow classmate, Abner Mariblanca agreed, noting that he enjoyed learning “learning outside of the textbook.”

According to Max Liphart, CPA, and director of operations at PCG Consultants, the course “bridges the gap between theory and actual investigations, which operate in a commercial environment with restrictions, document limitations, budgets and other constraints.”

Students learn to follow a trail not only via financial documents, but also by honing interviewing skills and techniques. And they discover the possibilities of forensic software to recover data off a deleted hard drive—with each specialty led by an expert in that particular area.

“The beauty of the course is that the investigators themselves are presenting cases they have worked on,” said Ryan, who has taught forensic accounting at the University for several years. “The students can actually jump into the mind of an investigator.”

In fact, Park pointed out, students enjoy the challenge.

“They have asked great questions,” she explained. “You have boxes 30 feet high and wide, and they want to know how you know which one to open. The answer is you don’t. Years of working in the field gives you some intuition, and you just start digging.”

Kunkel hopes to offer expanded offerings in this area. “Fraud and financial crime seem to be a growth industry right now,” he said. “Learning from professionals in the field gives students a new look at what they need to know to investigate these sorts of crimes…and it opens doors to a career if they are interested.”