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By Dan Benson
Sheboygan Press staff
"Open up, police," Damir Hadrovic shouted, as he pounded on the door of a conference room on the second floor of the Esch Library on the campus of Lakeland College.
Hadrovic, a junior in the college's accounting program, pounded on the door again.
"Police. We have a search warrant. Open the door," hollered Hadrovic, the point man of a five-member team on the trail of Sonny Days, a man they believed had been recruiting others to file false W-2 forms with the Internal Revenue Service.
Hadrovic and the other team members, accompanied by two IRS special agents — all of them armed — finally burst into the room as part of an exercise known as the Adrian Project in which college accounting students are introduced to the law enforcement aspect of the IRS.
Sonny Days, portrayed by another IRS agent, was arrested and evidence — including partially filled out W-2s, software, tax withholding calculators and cash — was secured during a search of the room.
"You have your probable cause," IRS supervisory special agent Brandon Bielke told the students. "Good job. We smashed what would be a three- to six-month investigation into four hours."
The exercise involved 20 Lakeland accounting students and 16 IRS special agents from Milwaukee.
Far from merely auditing tax returns, IRS special agents comprise the law enforcement arm of the agency. They carry guns, execute search warrants and make arrests.
"We're the CSI of accounting," said agent Julie Ricchio, one of the agents who helped guide a team of students through a mock investigation and the use of "forensic accounting" — following a paper trail of financial and other records to discover whether a crime has been committed.
At the beginning of the afternoon exercise, each of the 20 students were sworn in as temporary special agents, were given a rubber pistol, radio, handcuffs and a badge.
Then they were divided into five teams, assigned a scenario and began to collect evidence, interview witnesses, obtain search warrants from judges and make arrests.
"They're taking the knowledge they acquire in the classroom and applying it to real-life situations," said Lakeland accounting professor Robert Martin, himself a former IRS special agent.
The Lakeland accounting program graduates 150 to 180 accounting students every year, making it the state's largest, said Richard Gaumer, who heads the college's accounting program.
It's also the only accounting program in the state with a forensics emphasis, he said.
That's why the IRS has twice selected Lakeland as a location for its Adrian Project. The first time was in 2007. It's the only college to ever host the project, although an abbreviated version has been done at high schools.
"This program is phenomenal," said Bielke, who oversaw the exercise and the 16 agents involved.
Laura Schnelle, a junior from Howards Grove with a double major in international business management and accounting, said the exercise opened her eyes to career opportunities she hadn't previously considered.
"It definitely made me think about some of the options out there," she said.
Schnelle particularly liked the role playing of the exercise, especially when making the arrest, which required her to bang on a door and order the suspect to open it.
"It was really fun to act it out," she said.
The combination of law enforcement and accounting can excite the imagination of accountants, Bielke said.
"Accounting is sometimes a dry subject. This helps students think outside the box," he said.
The IRS employs about 30 special agents in Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay, according to Bielke.
Bielke said the Adrian Project helps create a partnership with schools and helps the IRS recruit new agents.
Mary Dennewitz, a junior from Chicago, said she is 'definitely interested" in going to work for the IRS.
Her team went through bank accounts, searched a storage unit and taped conversations in order to arrest "Roger Pothead," a drug dealer concealing his illicit income from the IRS.
"I like accounting, but also the law enforcement aspect," she said.
Dennewitz came to Lakeland for that purpose, she said, having been introduced to law enforcement by her sister, a special agent with the federal department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.