I'm a CFE

Natasha Novikov, CFE, CPA/CFF

Forensic accountant at the FBI

Natasha Novikov, 32, CFE, CPA/CFF, a forensic accountant at the FBI, received the Certified Fraud Examiner of the Year award in June at the 26th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. As the only forensic accountant at the FBI's Orlando Resident Agency, Novikov has worked a score of varied cases, including a complex corporate fraud case with only three weeks to prepare for federal trial during the government shutdown, which resulted in a guilty verdict and $3 million in restitution. She's excelled both professionally and athletically — Novikov has played on ice hockey, rugby and roller derby teams and has run four full and eight half marathons.

I was born at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. Both my father and stepfather had devoted careers as military officers in the U.S. Army, so I moved frequently during my childhood. I've lived in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Fort McClellan, Alabama; Fort Greely, Alaska; Austin, Texas; and Lakeland, Florida.

At a very young age, my dream was to either be one of TV's "American Gladiators" or an FBI special agent. I come from a family devoted to public service for our country, and it was only fitting that I wanted to be an American hero as well.

I played just about every sport growing up. In high school I earned my varsity letter nine times in cheerleading, track, weight lifting, cross-country and swimming. In track I qualified at the district meet to advance to regionals in shot put and hurdles.

In March 2009, the Forensic Accountant Program was created within the Criminal Investigative Division at the FBI. I applied for the Tampa field office when the positions were first posted. Because the positions were deemed mission critical, the entire hiring process was complete in less than a year — this includes background to obtain top-secret security clearance. I am now five years in as an FBI forensic accountant.

As the only forensic accountant in the Orlando Resident Agency, I'm a limited resource; therefore, I select and pair up with special agents on the most complex and challenging cases. I accompany agents on interviews of victims, witnesses, sources and subjects. I request and serve federal grand jury subpoenas. I analyze financial evidence and compile my findings in investigative reports and exhibits. I trace proceeds from the crime to assets subject to forfeiture. I assist agents with writing criminal complaints and affidavits to obtain arrest, search and seizure warrants. I occasionally support the evidence response team with the execution of search warrants. I testify as a summary fact or expert witness, depending on the discretion of the prosecuting attorney. No two days are alike, which makes my job as an FBI forensic accountant exciting.

Receiving the CFE of the Year award is a huge honor. ... It reignited the fire I have and gives me determination to keep aspiring for better."

While embedded on the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Tampa, I worked on an investigation of a corrupt police officer for his involvement in a Middle Eastern criminal enterprise. The organization procured, sold and laundered fraudulent tax refund checks with the assistance of the police officer. As a result of my forensic examination and contributions to the investigative team, the police officer pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated identity theft, unauthorized access to a protected computer and conspiracy to defraud the government. He was sentenced to 77 months in prison with restitution of $874,319.35. The special agent and I both received an award for the case.

The CFE credential allows me to broaden my network with other fraud examiners that aren't necessarily CPAs or accountants. The 26th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference in Baltimore was the first ACFE conference I attended. I ended up meeting six investigators from six different central Florida law enforcement agencies. All are assigned to a financial crimes joint task force with the Secret Service and IRS. Coincidentally, we're all assigned to the Suspicious Activity Report Review Team — a working group held at the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Middle District of Florida — yet never met until the ACFE conference. Those connections have already been beneficial in a joint operation executed just weeks after the conference.

Receiving the CFE of the Year award is a huge honor. It tops all of my other awards and achievements to date. I never thought I would receive such a prestigious award at such a young age. It reignited the fire I have and gives me determination to keep aspiring for better. It's made me realize that more is still possible. My goal is to provide hope and encouragement to others to push themselves as well.

I joined the Women's Orlando Rugby Club and played for several years. In 2008, we won the USA Rugby Women's Division II National Championships. The following year we moved up to Division I, which meant we traveled out of state for all match games. In 2010, the day before I had to report to the FBI Academy at Quantico, I flew up to Providence, Rhode Island, for the USA Rugby Women's Division I Rugby playoffs. Our team traveled with only 15 players and no substitutes. We even had to play a portion of the game down players due to injuries. We got crushed and I left the game with a black eye. I flew home that Saturday night to Orlando, hopped right in my car at midnight and drove 14 hours straight to Quantico, Virginia. I met my program managers and classmates the next day with a black eye and no sleep. I'm sure I made a great first impression in a room full of accountants.

Never settle for less than your best. Until recently when I became a fraud examiner, I didn't know what kind of dedication it took for giving my best. Now I know.

Emily Primeaux is assistant editor of Fraud Magazine. Her email address is: eprimeaux@ACFE.com.