The Investigator

Richard Riley

After 15 years spearheading the Chambers College’s forensic and fraud examination program and working on high-profile cases involving everything from terrorism financing to Enron, Richard Riley knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a financial sleuth.


Richard Riley

As the Louis F. Tanner Distinguished Professor of Public Accounting and Master of Forensic and Fraud Examination (FAFE) program coordinator — unsurprisingly — he has it down to an equation.

“A forensic accountant needs to be part accountant, part investigator. They need to have some flair for the law and legalities, and they need to be an effective communicator, to take complicated matters and simplify them so that judge and jury can grasp the important issues,” he said.

Since his program’s inception in 2004, FAFE has graduated 500 students in the master’s and graduate certificate programs and welcomed over 50,000 participants in the FAFE Coursera massive open online course. He said what really keeps him passionate about this field isn’t the notoriety of forensics or the headlines his cases make. It’s the process of discovery.

Q: How did you, an accountant who’d worked both in industry and academia, get into forensics?

A: I got into forensic accounting through Paul Speaker, WVU professor of finance, in 2002. When I did my first case, I considered myself just a geek accountant who liked to crawl around through books and records and solve a problem. At the time, the term “forensic accounting” didn’t really exist, but there were a lot of high-profile market failures related to financial statement fraud — Enron, WorldCom, HealthSouth — in the 2001 to 2002 timeframe. It turns out that Enron, one of the failed companies, had made an investment in a West Virginia coal mine that caused them to operate in an unusual manner. I worked that case with Dr. Speaker and an attorney named Steven McGowan. By 2004, we were calling ourselves forensic accountants.

Q: How does the Chambers program prepare students for the real world?

A: The hallmark of our program is experiential learning. A student who completes our master’s program will work seven cases that replicate real-world scenarios — organized crime, terrorism financing — many of which I was involved in myself as an investigator. In these cases, the bad actors are not only committing crimes, but they’re also moving money around the world using money laundering techniques. And our students have to follow that money and use financial and non-financial evidence to build a case around. Students get mountains of evidence to sort through, searching for that needle in a haystack. Then they have to write numerous reports that follow reporting guidelines, and they have to pitch and defend their casework to real professionals in the field. We bring in representatives from the IRS’ criminal investigations unit, sworn arresting officers and, at the end of the program, the students are deposed by practicing attorneys for three-and-a-half hours, where these attorneys are trying to punch holes in their work. When our students get done, they truly have a full skillset, from how to get a case started to the various tools and techniques, including data analytics, for working that case and communicating it effectively.

Q: How do you see the field continuing to evolve?

A: Back in the early 2000s, everything was paper and pencil and Excel analysis. Now, big data and data analytics have taken root in forensic accounting. The courtroom has become more sophisticated in terms of presentation software, with interactive graphs and charts that really involve an audience, utterly transforming how information is conveyed. Part and parcel of what we do now is more than crunching numbers and data analytics. It’s presentation skills, graphics and communication. To be successful in their role, a forensic accountant and fraud examiner has to be able to get a judge and jury to focus on what’s important in a case.