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MBA Students Learn from Local Forensic Accountant

April 15, 2021

Karen Leone, an FBI forensic accountant, shared the ins and outs of her career with MBA students this spring. As many students are just learning about forensic accounting, Erica Sysol, visiting assistant professor of practice, often invites guest lecturers to class to give them a behind-the-scenes look at positions and careers in the field.

MBA students interact with an FBI forensic accountant.

Leone, an FBI forensic accountant in the Rochester satellite office, based out of the Buffalo Field Office, has a diverse background in accounting. She graduated from Canisius College in accounting and followed the traditional public accounting track. She worked at a local firm in Buffalo until she went to work for EY, one of the big four accounting firms.

After her experience with EY, Leone went to work for M&T Bank, where she ultimately decided to go the forensic accountant route and became a Certified Fraud Examiner. Leone said she chose this route because she is always learning new things.

She explained that forensic accountants for the FBI are not actual accountants; rather, they serve as the financial experts on investigative cases. A relatively new field, the position began in the 1970s and in 2009, transitioned from financial analyst to forensic accountant. In her role, Leone juggles around 10 cases at a time; including corporate fraud, Ponzi schemes, embezzlement cases, and even a murder trial, just to name a few.

“I appreciated being able to learn about types of jobs in the accounting field other than tax and audit,” said student Sarah Van Der Karr. “Seeing how the FBI works with forensic accountants was an aspect of law enforcement that I was not previously aware of before this class.”

Leone also helped the class connect what they are learning in class to how it actually happens in real life. Most recently, the class is studying the different types of evidence needed for fraud cases and the interview process. Leone talked about the need to collect evidence that helps prove someone committed the crime. Leone also told the class that many agents prefer to have forensic accountants participate in the interview processes.

“There are new schemes, but the old schemes still work,” Leone said. “While the biggest frauds or the newest frauds tend to catch our attention in the headlines, the basic fraud schemes are still here and here to stay.”

Leone said that the pandemic has spawned a rise in fraud related to coronavirus relief programs and PPE aid. There has been a surge of unemployment fraud occurring as well.

“We are now faced with a unique situation, where widespread fraud is taking place,” said Sysol, noting the skills needed to address these issues. “The ability to identify, analyze, and prosecute the extensive number of COVID-related fraud schemes is going to pose its own challenges, as another unfortunate consequence of these unprecedented times.”