Criminal Defense of Financial Cases

The most interesting cases I work are criminal cases for defendants accused of financial crimes such as money laundering, tax fraud, bribery and corruption, embezzlement, and investment fraud. I do my best work as a forensic accountant and fraud investigator in cases in which a trail of money must be followed through a complex web of people, entities, and bank accounts.

Peers and colleagues often question my desire to do criminal defense work. CPAs often see themselves as financial watchdogs, especially when they are providing traditional accounting or auditing services. The see themselves on the “right side” of the law, and can’t get their heads around the idea of a CPA helping a criminal.

Aside from the fact that criminal defense work is interesting, the service is needed. When a person is accused of a crime, she or he has a right to her or his day in court. She or he has a right to a defense, and that is an important check and balance in the criminal justice system. A criminal deserves to be held responsible for the crime committed, nothing more and nothing less.

My work in the defense of criminal financial cases involves checking the numbers alleged by the government, as well as coming up with evidence in support of defenses against the allegations. There are times when it is clear the defendant is guilty of something, but my work is necessary to determine the correct figures and related evidence. Sometimes, the government’s theory of the crime and the numbers involved is complex, and a financial expert is needed to validate the numbers, come up with alternatives, and ensure that the right numbers are being used in the prosecution.

I do well with complex financial cases because I can see the big picture of the alleged crime, dig down into the details with extreme precision, but not get bogged down in those details. It is no secret that the government can be aggressive in charging defendants with crimes. It is necessary to critically analyze the numbers alleged by law enforcement and refute those numbers with hard evidence.

Not every financial expert has the stomach for criminal defense work. I happen to find it very interesting, and I provide a good work product both on paper and in a courtroom. The most important part of my job, however, is being honest with the numbers. The numbers don’t lie. The evidence is often very definitive, and it is up to me to report my findings accurately. It is never okay to lie or stretch the truth in the defense of an alleged criminal. (Note that there is a difference between presenting evidence in the best light possible for the defendant, and stretching the truth.)

Sometimes attorneys retain me in the defense of financial crimes to tell them the truth about their client. They want an outside, independent party with fraud and financial analysis skills to examine the evidence and tell them exactly where they stand in their fight with law enforcement.  Most of the time I write an expert report and work in conjunction with the criminal defense attorney as the case moves through the criminal justice system. Other times I report my findings to the attorney, and am not presented as an expert witness because my findings are not helpful to the defense. (i.e. The evidence shows the defendant did it.)

Still, there are peers and colleagues who will criticize my work on the side of criminal defendants.  I will continue to do this type of work because my integrity is intact, but most importantly, because I have unique skills that can aid in the defense of people and companies accused of financial crimes.

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5 Comments

  • Dave Ellrich says:
    21 February 2012

    Care must be taken in these engagements to work for the lawyers, not the accused. Also, payment of fees can be a problem since most white collar crooks only have the fruits of their crime to use for the payment of fees. Otherwise, this can be a very interesting niche.

  • Kenny says:
    21 February 2012

    I agree with your blog. I have been involved in the practice of criminal defense as a CPA for the past four years. Often, I find public defender office has a hard time sorting out the financial records of the alleged criminals. Bare in mind, these are alleged criminals,until proven in a trial. I also have worked on embezzlements, investment frauds, tax evasions, insurance frauds, payroll frauds, and ponzi schemes. These are typical criminal cases. I, as a CPA, am to gather facts and present them as they are; therefore, I am independent and the Court systems appreciate such role that we play as CPAs. The only downside is that the compensation is often not as good as civil cases.

    Note to the author of this blog: Please let me know your thoughts on my comments.

  • Tracy Coenen says:
    21 February 2012

    Dave – I recommend being paid in advance in these cases to avoid future problems.

    Kenny – Yes I agree with you.

  • Felicia says:
    21 February 2012

    I am interested in getting involved in this type of work (forensic accouting) any advise on how to get started. My background has been consulting on financial re-statement at a few large companies which utilizes similar skill sets.

    Any advice would be great!

  • Tracy Coenen says:
    21 February 2012

    Here’s a good start:

    http://www.sequenceinc.com/fraudfiles/2008/12/becoming-a-fraud-investigator/

    Also if you go to the Articles tab above and then look at the careers link in the right column, you may find some helpful articles there.

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