Agents for a day

“Police with a warrant—open up,” Matthew Prentice shouted outside of a classroom door in the School of Business Administration last Friday afternoon.

“Police with a warrant—open up,” Matthew Prentice shouted outside of a classroom door in the School of Business Administration last Friday afternoon.

Moments later, the door with a sign that read “Cheaters Bar ‘N Grill” opened and Prentice pushed past the man opening the door. Prentice led a team of “federal agents” in body armor inside to serve a search warrant on the bar’s owner, who was accused of hiding earnings from the IRS.

Prentice, a senior majoring in accounting, and the rest of the team were very familiar with the man who opened the door. They had been following him all day—building a mock case against him through investigation and surveillance. The team even used undercover work, complete with hidden cameras and microwave transmitters.

The scenario was just one of several that about 30 Portland State accounting students ran through that day as part of an IRS outreach program dubbed the “Adrian Project.”

Led by IRS Special Agent Debra Meyer, the event immersed students in the life of agents working for the IRS Criminal Investigation unit, a specialized arm of the IRS that investigates white-collar crimes.

“We make the students agents for a day,” Meyer said. “Today we have five ongoing investigations: a drug dealer, a bar owner that’s skimming, a questionable refund, a fraudulent tax preparer and a gambler not reporting winnings.”

Meyer, a Portland State alumna and IRS agent since 1987, said the program is designed to spread the word about what IRS criminal investigators do and also lets students know that working for the IRS doesn’t necessarily mean sitting behind a desk all day.

About 150 accounting majors graduate from the School of Business Administration each year, many of whom want to become certified public accountants, but not all of them. In a city the size of Portland, there are not enough entry-level jobs to absorb all of the school’s graduates anyway, said Dr. Elizabeth Almer, accounting area director with the School of Business Administration.

“So increasingly we are trying to open up doors to government jobs for our students. This is a terrific avenue,” she said.

When Meyer first approached Almer about bringing the project to PSU, Almer said she was immediately on board and that the event was an “incredibly positive student experience.”

In an evaluation, students unanimously rated their experience with the program as being a five out of five.

“It not only showed them these alternative careers they may not have thought about, but it provided them with a day of skills enhancement in areas that can benefit them in their careers going forward,” said Almer, who is also the adviser for the accounting student group Beta Alpha Psi.

Through the program, students learned about interviewing techniques, background checks and various tax laws.

“Even if they don’t go into the IRS, those types of skills are things they would be using in their accounting careers,” Almer said.

Catherine Willey, senior, enjoyed playing the part of a federal agent for the day.

“As soon as I learned about the project I signed up right away,” Willey said while wearing body armor with “Police” and “IRS CI” emblazoned on the front. “I think it’s been really interesting, learning about all the stuff the IRS has to offer—all the different job opportunities.”

Senior Patrick Mok also enjoyed playing the part of law enforcement.

“It’s pretty fun,” he said. “And informative, as far as how special agents operate.”

Special Agent Dan Wardlaw said that one of the main purposes behind Project Adrian is to inform people of what IRS agents do.

“The more we make people aware of what we do, the more we can deter crime,” he said. “And deterring crime is better than waiting for crime to occur.”

The IRS’s CI unit began in 1919 as the Intelligence Unit, and found fame in the ‘30s when it convicted Al Capone for tax evasion and assisted in the solving of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. In 1978, the name changed to its present designation, and according to information released by the IRS, in its nearly 100-year existence the unit’s conviction rate for federal prosecutions has never fallen below 90 percent.

Yesterday, an investigation conducted by the local IRS CI unit resulted in the sentencing of Portland resident Reggie Allan Maier, 30, to imprisonment for his role in an identity fraud scheme involving his father and four others.