I'm a CFE

Joseph B. Wells, CFE

Special agent at the FBI

Joseph B. Wells, CFE, not only shares his name with ACFE founder and Chairman, Dr. Joseph T. Wells, CFE, CPA, but also experience as FBI special agents. "I originally met Dr. Wells at the ACFE Global Fraud Conference in San Diego in 2011," says Wells. "I knew it was an unusual coincidence that Dr. Wells and I were both FBI agents, CPAs, CFEs and we shared the same name." Over the years, Wells' love of surfing led to a nickname coined by Dr. Wells to help tell the two apart: Surfer Joe. "Fortunately, Dr. Wells and I have forged a great friendship, and he has provided me with meaningful career guidance and inspiration."

Growing up in Tallahassee, Florida, I dreamed of surfing. But that dream wasn't a reality in north Florida. So I satisfied my surfing urge with skateboarding. It was only when I was assigned to the Los Angeles field office out of Quantico that I started surfing — I bought my first surfboard within a day or two of arriving.

My father was a building contractor, and I started working for him when I was about 13 years old. Many successful businessmen used our services. I didn't know exactly what these men did but I was impressed by their achievements and influence — I wanted to emulate them. So from an early age, I wanted to be a businessman; however, I admittedly didn't have a clear view of exactly what that meant. Once I was accepted to the business school at Florida State University (FSU), I quickly focused on accounting and finance. I earned my Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Accounting.

I became passionate about fighting fraud during an auditing class in graduate school. I watched an ACFE video featuring an interview with Barry Minkow and the ZZZZ Best case. He noted how accounts receivable could be used for fraud. I was enthralled with the idea of using accounting as a tool to investigate fraud.

I always encourage students and young professionals interested in law enforcement and fraud fighting to gain exposure to the profession by joining the ACFE."

I am a member of a newly formed squad at the FBI. The FBI criminal investigative division, Department of Justice (DOJ) fraud section, and DOJ asset forfeiture and money laundering sections collaborated to establish three new squads comprised of experienced and highly trained fraud-fighting personnel to focus on FCPA, kleptocracy and international money-laundering violations. The dedicated personnel include agents, forensic accountants and analysts. The FBI now has agents and analysts in the field globally working closely with our international partners. In addition, the FBI significantly expanded its private-sector outreach efforts. The investigative approach has shifted from historical investigations to proactive investigations, which has allowed the FBI to employ more sophisticated investigative techniques such as wiretaps and undercover operations.

One of my favorite financial fraud examinations happened in Los Angeles. The case was a joint investigation with the IRS of a complex, multimillion-dollar accounts receivable loan fraud perpetrated by top executives who set up at least 20 shell companies to conceal the fraud. They used a complicit CPA and an accountant to execute the fraud and convince the victim financial institutions that their revenues and receivables were properly stated. We used our accounting and finance knowledge to develop and execute an investigative strategy and unravel the scheme. Multiple individuals were convicted including the CPA and the complicit accountant.

Shortly after the FBI assigned me to work white-collar cases I had colleagues asking if I was related to Dr. Wells. During 2008, I joined the FBI's terrorist financing operations section at headquarters and learned that many of the agents and analysts working terrorist financing matters were CFEs. To enhance my skills and understanding of fraud I attended the ACFE's intensive four-day CFE Exam Review Course, took the exam and earned the CFE credential. I always encourage  students and young professionals interested in law enforcement and fraud fighting to gain exposure to the profession by joining the ACFE, passing the CFE Exam, networking with like-minded individuals in the fraud-fighting community and establishing a positive mentoring relationship.

The connections I've developed in the ACFE community have allowed me to more efficiently develop and progress investigations. In my opinion, the ACFE Global Fraud Conference is the best place to meet other professionals and make important connections. I've frequently used the ACFE membership data to meet new people and network in the community.

I spend most of my free time at the beach with my two kids. I surf as much as my schedule allows, and I'm currently teaching my children to surf.

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