Joan Drabczyk, CFE

Senior Court Analyst, New York State Grievance Committee

By Interview by Cora Bullock; Photo by Christopher Lane
cora-bullock-80x80   I’m a CFE

MarApr-joan-drabczykA 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.

After graduation, 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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