Joseph L. Ford, CFE

Executive Vice President & Chief Security Officer, Bank of the West;ACFE Regent Emeritus;ACFE Foundation

By Interview by Cora Bullock; Photo by Robert Benson


 cora-bullock-80x80    I'm a CFE 


SeptOct-joe-ford.jpg Joe Ford's responsibilities include overseeing investigations and fraud examinations, fraud prevention, physical security, information security and business continuity. He leads a team of 85 people, plus contractors. During the 23rd Annual ACFE Fraud Conference & Exhibition, the ACFE presented him with its highest honor, the Cressey Award, for a lifetime achievement in the detection and deterrence of fraud. The award is named for the late Dr. Donald R. Cressey, a renowned fraud researcher and an ACFE founding father. Ford retired as the third-ranking official within the FBI. While introducing Ford at the annual conference, ACFE founder and Chairman Dr. Joseph Wells, CFE, CPA, said, "Almost single handedly, our winner started the FBI's crusade against health care fraud. One notch in his white-collar crime gun was Columbia/HCA Health Care, which resulted in multiple convictions and civil fines of $1.6 billion. Another notch was when he was personally selected to head up the Enron task force. Still a third notch was when he figured out how to get terrorists where they are very, very vulnerable: in their bank accounts." (See Ford's acceptance speech at the bottom.)  

Fighting fraud is not easy. Start your career working with someone who can mentor and guide you. Begin working on smaller fraud cases and challenge yourself by exposing your experiences to more complex schemes. It's vitally important to understand the basics. 

You need discipline in paying attention to details. Take a methodical approach in tying details to actions. As you grow in the field, you'll want to lead fraud investigations, and it is important to build a high-performing team. 

I attended Essex Community College in Baltimore initially majoring in mechanical engineering. After completing its two-year course, I was admitted into the engineering program at Johns Hopkins and spent one year in their evening program. During my year at Johns Hopkins, I started working for the FBI as a clerk, later becoming an accounting technician. Eventually, I decided to switch majors to business and accounting so I could become an FBI agent. At that time, my best chance to become an agent was to apply under the accounting program, because they weren't much interested in hiring engineers. It took a little longer, but I eventually graduated from the University of Baltimore with a Bachelor's in Business Administration with a major in accounting. 

When I began working for the FBI, I was able to experience firsthand the commitment of its men and women to fighting fraud. After working for the agency for two years, I started working as an accounting technician with agents on the white-collar crime squad. It was my apprenticeship in fraud. Later, when I became an FBI agent, I had the opportunity to expand my experiences by working my own cases, presenting evidence to federal grand juries and testifying in federal court. 

Investigating fraud and seeing fraudsters convicted was a thrill. Trying to understand the white-collar criminal psyche became a passion and vocation as my FBI career progressed. I had the opportunity to lead or be part of many landmark investigations.

During the 1980s, I led a corruption investigation involving Department of Defense employees, consultants and contractors resulting in more than 35 convictions. We used seven months of wiretaps from Pennsylvania to Florida to gather the evidence. The corruption was systemic and began before World War II. 

During the 1990s, I led the FBI's efforts in rebuilding its health care fraud program. I was lucky to lead or be part of the successful criminal and/or civil prosecutions of the Columbia/HCA case, National Medical Enterprises, Eckerd Pharmacy, KPMG, Olsten Home Health Care, staged accident frauds and a number of medical laboratories. Collectively, the government recovered more than $2 billion dollars in fraudulent claims from these companies. I also led the Enron investigation as well as the investigation that led to the prosecution of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm. 


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