Joan Drabczyk, CFE
Senior Court Analyst, New York State Grievance Committee
I’m a CFE
first-generation American and staunch fraud fighter, Joan Drabczyk
thought she was going to be a doctor before taking an accounting course
that changed the trajectory of her life. She’s the only accountant in
her office of 10 attorneys who investigate complaints against attorneys.
In her line of work, she says, “I am fascinated with detecting
deception through reading body language and observing human behavior and
tying that in with my investigations.”
Every day is an achievement.
When I walk into my office, I know that I’m protecting someone from
being financially victimized. However, I’m most proud when one of my
investigations results in the victim getting their money back.
I studied abroad twice
while attending Adelphi University, once for the summer in 2002, and
then for a semester in 2003. While in London, I worked at a video store
part-time, which really submerged me into the “real” life. I met people
from all over the world and made good friends. Being so close to
countries rich in culture, history and gastronomy taught me a lot.
I became passionate about
fighting fraud during college, when I worked as a paralegal at a law
office. I was exposed to different cases and life tragedies. I always
felt strongly against injustice to innocent people.
I worked as an agency auditor for Fidelity National Financial in the
New York tri-state area, auditing title agents’ escrow accounts. After
one year, I was laid off due to a downturn in the economy. A month
later, I was hired by the Appellate Division 2nd Department to audit
attorney escrow accounts.
When a formal complaint is filed
against a lawyer or a check bounces in an attorney escrow account, a
confidential investigation commences. As the only accountant in the
office, I assist 10 staff attorneys at every aspect of a case, including
at depositions and formal hearings, many of which lead to an attorney’s
suspension from the practice of law or even to disbarment.
One memorable case involved
an attorney who neglected client matters, wrote bad checks from
personal and business accounts, and deposited client funds into a
personal account. The attorney also fabricated a court order to falsely
convince a litigation funding company that a client reached settlement
in the amount of $35,000 and pocketed the money. As a result of the
attorney’s actions, my office was flooded with client complaints and
dishonored check notices. We began an investigation, in which the
attorney falsely testified to the actions.
My duties on this
case involved issuing subpoenas for multiple escrow, business and
personal accounts that the attorney had in his name, auditing more than
1,000 pages of those records, and preparing spreadsheets. I assisted the
staff attorney with questioning the attorney on numerous occasions. I
pieced information provided in client complaints and dishonored check
reports, to figure out what was really happening, because the attorney
never told us the truth about anything. The attorney claimed that the
stress of running a law practice caused him to neglect the cases and
that he was being taken advantage of by unnamed persons. The court found
the attorney “morally corrupt and intellectually bankrupt.” The final
decision of the court was the attorney’s disbarment.
The top lessons I have learned
from working my cases are that I find it helpful to discuss findings
with my peers and get their points of view. Also, don’t jump to any
conclusions until all aspects of the investigation have been covered. Be
able to quickly adapt to
changes in a case.
Earning my CFE has given me more
confidence to speak with credibility with other CFEs. It has also
helped me get onto the board of advisors at LaGuardia Community College
Paralegal Studies department and receive the 10 Under 10 award
from Adelphi University. Every year, Adelphi University recognizes 10
young alumni that have achieved exceptional career and personal
accomplishments before reaching their 10-year reunion.
My personal motto is by Dr. Seuss:
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can
steer yourself any direction you choose.” When I came across this quote,
I stuck a copy of it on my office desk corkboard. It reminds me every
day that I am capable of doing anything I put my mind to.
Since my family immigrated to this country from Poland,
and the rest of our entire family remained there, as a little girl I
frequently traveled overseas. It really sparked a love of travel for me.
I have traveled to most of the European countries and even made it to
Argentina. Due to all my travels, I love learning new languages. I speak
fluent Polish and have knowledge of Spanish.
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