Once a year, in the spring, accounting professor Tina Carpenter assumes the identities of 15 different characters during the Maymester session of Terry's Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination course. The suspects in Carpenter's interactive whodunit course are all associated with a fictional baseball team, where individuals are pulling a financial fast one. But who? To get to the bottom of this mystery, Carpenter teaches her graduate students the how-to's of evidence collection; they, in turn, form groups to conduct online investigations of potential fraud.
"They have to learn to use all the tools available to them in order to completely solve the case...down to the last penny," says Carpenter. "They have to tell me who did it, how they did it, what was the scheme, who all was involved — and they have to show the fraud triangle. They also have to tie it completely down financially because they will have to do that in the real world." Carpenter knows what she's talking about, having developed an interest in fraud investigation when she was a senior auditor at Arthur Andersen.
"Being in public accounting right before the scandals broke (from 1996-1999), you realized there was a lot of gray stuff going on in the business world...a lot," says Carpenter. "It wasn't anything that anyone was calling fraud or that anyone said was wrong. It was just that people were being very aggressive. Everybody was trying to meet their numbers and do anything it took to meet those numbers. And you weren't always sure it was falling within the rules. Not that any of my clients were fraudulent in any way. There was just this sense that things were pushing the gray to a very dark gray."
An impressive roster of guest speakers reinforces Carpenter's in-class lessons and, at her behest, the speakers also drop hints that help students get to the bottom of the wrongdoing.
Greg Esslinger, a licensed attorney and director of FTI Consulting, was an integral part of the FBI's international terrorism task force. He discussed white-collar criminal interrogations and investigations. Students are taught how corporate employees commit fraud, but guest lecturers such as Marc Foster make it clear that in this case imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. Foster, who served with both the FBI and the Secret Service, told the class that it would be nearly impossible for him to beat a polygraph — despite the fact that he was an FBI polygraph examiner.
The format is unusual — perhaps a bit in-your-face — and Terry students love it. "I've never taken a class where guest speakers teach you something in an interactive manner, which made this more personal and more interesting" says Meredith Gould, one of the nearly 50 students en-rolled in this year's Maymester course, which has nearly doubled in size since Carpenter intro-duced it in 2004.
Relying on a complicated database with dozens of possible responses to questions directed at each of the 15 suspects, Carpenter simulates how all of the principals involved — both the innocent and the culpable — would typically react to a team of auditors assigned to investigate possi-ble wrongdoing. To answer student questions and advance the plot line, Carpenter sits down at her computer in the wee hours of the morning and, via e-mail, portrays all 15 characters in this business-world version of Clue.
This multi-layered simulation game was the brainchild of Carpenter's former colleague at Florida State, Cindy Durtschi. While earning her doctorate, Carpenter worked with Durtschi as she developed this model, which won an Innovation in Audit Education Award from the American Accounting Association. Carpenter will soon be meeting with Durtschi — who is now at Utah State — to adapt each of their cases and develop a third case for their rotation.
So what is the idea for the third case? And what did this year's class discover was rotten with the baseball team?
For the sake of future forensic accounting students, that will remain a Maymester Mystery.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2007 Terry magazine.