I'm a CFE
Jacqueline Pruitt, CFE, is an attorney in Sidley Austin’s Chicago office. She focuses on internal investigations, white-collar criminal matters, government enforcement actions and complex commercial litigation.
I participated in both the Business Honors Program and the Master in Professional Accounting joint-degree program at The University of Texas (Hook ‘em!) in Austin. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and accounting seemed like a sensible, safe default option.
I studied accounting in the wake of the Enron scandal, so the concept of fraud and the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act were prominent in my curriculum. I was extremely fascinated by both the technical and human elements of the various schemes making the headlines, and I knew I wanted to do my part to help detect and prevent fraud.
At the University of Texas, I took a graduate fraud examination course taught by Andi McNeal, CFE, CPA, director of research at the ACFE. It was one of my favorite college courses.
Growing up, I had no idea what attorneys did other than argue in court. In college, I thought I would ultimately be a forensic accountant — I wanted to do investigations. When I learned that as an attorney I could investigate — plus write, research, argue, prosecute and defend — I was sold.
Some of the most important investigative skills I’ve learned thus far are how to conduct investigative interviews, how to efficiently sift through enormous volumes of electronic data to obtain the information I need to develop the facts, and how to search public records in a meaningful way.
I was part of a team of Sidley attorneys who investigated high-profile allegations of improper activity in connection with the red-light-camera contract between Redflex and the city of Chicago. Redflex provided Sidley with complete access to its people and records. One allegation was that Redflex paid for vacation-related expenses for the city program manager and that such expenses were primarily contained in a former Redflex executive’s expense reports. These reports typically didn’t reveal that the vacation-related expenses were for the city program manager nor that they related to Chicago, and the required back-up documentation that would have provided the details of the expenses was often missing or incomplete. My role included analyzing the high volume of expense reports, contemporaneous emails and credit card statements to identify which, if any, expenses were actually incurred on behalf of the city program manager.
Using these materials and several interviews, I essentially developed a timeline of the executive’s travel to determine which expenses did not likely relate to the executive, but instead to the city program manager. In the end, our team identified vacation-related expenses for the city program manager for at least 17 different trips from 2003 through 2010.
It was both enjoyable and fulfilling to contribute my fraud examination skills to the team and help our client discover the truth about past events so they could improve their compliance and internal controls.
I worked with a Chicago-area municipality to conduct an investigation into, among other things, alleged safety issues within certain municipal properties. Through our inquiry, my team confirmed several serious, imminent public safety concerns, including non-functional sprinkler systems in the city’s movie theater and primary retail district parking facility. We then worked with the city administration and public safety officers to ensure the facilities would not pose a danger to the public.
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