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Students learn how to ‘follow the money’ during IRS Citizens Academy at Rider University

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Rider University senior Daniella Jeannot’s image of the Internal Revenue Service was that of “a boring office building with drab, gray walls.”

But after spending a day with instructors from the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Citizens Academy and cracking a “pretend” terrorist money laundering operation, Jeannot is thinking about a career with the federal agency’s Criminal Investigation Division.

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“It was a surreal experience. It was an eye-opener. I definitely see myself applying to something I didn’t know about,” said Jeannot, who was planning to attend law school. Now, she is thinking about switching gears for a career with the IRS.

Several instructors spent the day with two dozen Rider University students recently, hoping to entice them to consider a career with the IRS and its Criminal Investigation Division. The little-known unit investigates suspected tax fraud and other financial frauds.

The students who signed up for the day-long Citizens Academy were created special agents for the day and learned how to conduct an investigation, said Robert Glantz, a special agent and the public information officer for the IRS Criminal Investigation Division.

In the simulated case, an informant came to the “special agents,” launching an investigation into a suspected terrorist money laundering operation, Glantz said. Four suspects were conspiring to do something bad, but there was nothing specific until the special agents came across something suspicious, he said.

The four suspects were working together to get money from one place to another without raising suspicions, Glantz said. Guided by the instructors, the four teams of students asked for more information and started looking at mortgages and deeds.

The students shared what they had gleaned with each other, looking for links such as the amount of money earned and money spent, tax returns and bank accounts, Glantz said. They interviewed the suspects’ accountant. When they gathered enough evidence, they obtained an arrest warrant and made an arrest.

“We follow the money. That’s what this involves – terrorism finance, tax fraud and money laundering. The hardest thing to follow is cash. Agents are trained in cryptocurrency. It’s more difficult to follow, but it can be done,” Glantz said.

What the IRS Citizens Academy does in seven or eight hours in the simulated investigation is what takes special agents “one or two years to do,” Glantz said. Through the Citizens Academy, “we try to expose students to the highlights of what we do,” he said.

Since the IRS Criminal Investigation Division special agents carry weapons, the goal was to show students what the job entails. The students were given hands-on instruction in how to make an arrest, Glantz said.

The students gathered in a meeting room, where they were given blue vests with a patch that indicated they were IRS agents. They were supplied with real handcuffs and fake handguns for practice in making an arrest.

They were taught to leave the gun in the holster. When they removed the gun from the holster, they were told that “you do not point the gun at anything you are not going to shoot. Pull the gun out – just like you see in the movies – and aim.”

The students, many of whom had never handled a gun or a set of handcuffs, became more adept at using them. With practice, they became quicker at pulling the gun out of the holster.

Many of the students who participated in the day-long program were not accounting majors, Glantz said. There were criminal justice majors and students majoring in other disciplines, but they all signed up for the Citizens Academy because of their interest in the job, he said.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime, hands-on experience that you can’t get anywhere else. This is how you learn. The students want to do it and they made a commitment to eight hours (for the Citizens Academy),” he said.

A day in the life of an IRS special agent is different every day, Glantz said. Agents conduct surveillance and they interview witnesses. There are many different jobs, and an agent assigned to a case cannot do it “without the guys behind the scenes,” he said.

“The job of an IRS special agent is great for a million reasons. It’s the camaraderie. We try to show the students how much we love what we do. It’s finding a career that you love,” Glantz said.

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