SPOKANE -- The men and women of the Lilac City's crime fighters are summoned for everything from robbery and murder to stolen cars and crashes. But to conquer some criminals, they need help from college students.
Detective Stacy Carr does what she can, but Spokane, like most police agencies doesn't have the staff or the accounting know-how to crack down some of the stealthiest white collar criminals - embezzlers.
"Eighty hours to do one case and I have 80 others waiting for me when I'm done," Det. Carr says.
That's why the Spokane Police Department is embarking on a pilot program - believed to be the first of its kind in the nation - that uses college students to bring justice to fraud victims. Gonzaga accounting majors, to be exact.
They're investigating real cases for college credit. Two or three weekly work meetings are supervised by police, faculty, and local certified fraud examiners. But it's the students doing the heavy lifting. They go through bank statements, bills and canceled checks, all of it evidence kept under lock and key.
Jeff is one of those victims who heads a community service organization. His case is so sensitive, we're concealing his identity.
"I found out that we were substantially overdrawn," says Jeff. "We're a non-profit public service organization and the money we raise goes back into the community to help underprivileged people."
Police say it appears the treasurer may have been swindling funds from the non-profit for years. And the accounting students are discovering losses three times larger than Jeff had dreamed - somewhere between $18,000 and $25,000 over five years.
As in most cases, the small businesses and non-profits can't afford to hire their own forensic accountants, so they wouldn't be able to push toward prosecution without help from these college crime fighters.
"I have the experience to help and I've enjoyed the opportunity to do that," says student David Machado.
For the victims, getting a conviction against people they once trusted would be bittersweet following a battle they never dreamed they'd have to fight.
The National Association of Certified Fraud Examiners likes the program so much, they've expressed interest in launching it at other universities.
If you believe you're a victim of fraud and would like to see if you're a good candidate for the project, send a copy of your police report to:
The Justice for Fraud Victim's Project
c/o Detective Stacey Carr
Spokane Police Department Fraud Unit
1100 W. Mallon
Spokane, WA. 999260