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Adrian Project lets students step into shoes of IRS special agents

DeKALB – A group of 10 special agents scurried through the cafeteria in Northern Illinois University’s Barsema Hall on Friday morning while making a drug bust.

The drug dealer’s arrest, which occurred around 11 a.m. on the second floor of the building, was part of a simulation called the Adrian Project – a day-long program that introduces students to the life of an Internal Revenue Service special agent.

About 40 IRS agents and 80 NIU students participated in the simulation. They were divided into eight groups, each focusing on a different case. Participants investigated scenarios like a gambling scandal, questionable tax filing and malpractice by a casino.

“When these people are committing crimes, they are committing crimes against each and every one of you,” said Lucy Cruz, assistant special agent in charge with criminal investigations. “That should enrage you. The victims are the hard-working, honest citizens who are paying their taxes.”

Students began their day by being sworn in or “deputized” as special agents. They then separated into small groups, where they conducted mock investigations in which coordinators asked them to “think like an agent.”

They were to think of the classroom as their office and instructed to remain in character while analyzing suspects’ criminal histories, assets, tax return information and bank transactions.

“Be proactive, keep an open mind and be creative,” said Jason DeBeau, an IRS special agent leading one of the sessions. “What you want to do is look at the assets and follow the money.”

In DeBeau’s classroom, students investigated a mock case in which a drug dealer had sold cocaine twice to an undercover police officer. Later, the group of “agents” decided to act.

They gave their undercover police officer a wire to record conversations, and were armed with “red guns” – replica handguns used for training – and hand-held radios.

“This is a lot different than just sitting in a classroom, reading out of a textbook,” said 20-year-old Shannon Fritz, a senior accounting major at NIU. “I never really realized how you could bust drug dealers by following the money and assets.”

Most students who took part in the Adrian Project are part of NIU’s accounting program, though some volunteered from other programs.

“We have talked about all these techniques and tools in class,” said Chih-Chen Lee, associate professor for forensics accounting. “It’s helpful for them to see it all play out in a real world setting.”

Cruz said the Adrian Project presents great recruiting opportunities for the IRS, because students don’t always consider the career path as an option.

“Aside from that, it’s designed for us to identify an applicant pool we’d be interested in hiring,” she said. “And it’s a way for us to kind of promote our job.”

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