The ACFE Stands On Giant Shoulders

By Gil Geis, Ph.D., CFE

My first contact with what was to become the ACFE took place in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1986 at the retirement ceremony for Donald Cressey, a sociologist and former graduate dean on the University of California, Santa Barbara campus. Cressey, Minnesota-born, was the intellectual heir to Edwin H. Sutherland, a professor at Indiana University, where Cressey received his Ph.D. 

Sutherland had coined the term "white-collar crime" in his presidential address in 1939 in Philadelphia to the American Sociological Society (later named the American Sociological Association). Cressey's doctoral dissertation, still a classic in white-collar crime and fraud scholarship, had been built on interviews with 133 prisoners in federal institutions who had been convicted of embezzlement and related offenses. 

Cressey had a strikingly keen mind and a notably forthright way of letting others know when they made sense and when they didn't. When I first met him in the mid-1950s, he teased me about having co-authored a criminology textbook that competed, not particularly well, with the standard book that Sutherland had written and Cressey continued to update after his mentor's death. "You're just nibbling, nibbling, nibbling at my profits," he scolded me, but good-naturedly. 

Cressey and Chairman Wells, along with their wives, Elaine and Judy, recently had traveled together to Australia and had formed a close friendship. Cressey and Joe agreed that academic criminology existed in too cloistered an environment and that the fight against fraud required an organization that gathered and dispensed the best knowledge available. 

Joe, an excellent listener and an FBI-trained information gatherer, learned that I, an academic criminologist by trade, had a condo in Austin, and a daughter living in Wimberly, near Austin, and a psychologist stepson who held an endowed chair at The University of Texas. It was soon agreed that I would spend some time at Joe's headquarters on West Avenue when I was in Austin, which was rather often, and help out with various assignments, such as contributing to the Fraud Examiners Manual, and serving, but by no means full time, as a member of the executive committee and for 10 years as ACFE president.

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