Detective stalks financial records White-collar schemes leave telltale tracks for trained sleuth

March 23, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Frank Curran, the new investigator for the Howard County State's Attorney's Office, loves paper.

"There are two types of people in jail," he says. "People who write things down and people who talk too much."

Bring on those mind-boggling ledger sheets and bank records that defy logic. Curran can plow through them and determine if there's a crime between the columns.

His hiring is part of a push by the county prosecutor's office to crack down on white-collar crime -- an area that law enforcement officials suspect will grow along with Howard's population and advances in technology.

"The ingredients were there," State's Attorney Marna McLendon said of the need to hire an investigator trained to trace financial crimes. There was a "a recognition that white-collar crime would be a big piece of our future and that has come to pass."

Last year, there were 569 reported forgery, fraud and embezzlement offenses, a 30 percent increase since 1995, police statistics show. The issue came to the forefront recently as authorities began to investigate the possible embezzlement of thousands of dollars from Dorsey's Search village.

Anne Darrin resigned from her 10-year job as village manager Feb. 27. A Columbia Association audit revealed that $100,000 may have been misappropriated from Dorsey's Search over several years.

Curran, 50, will likely be on the Dorsey's Search trail.

He has extensive experience. Before coming to the state's attorney's office in December, he spent 27 years with the Internal Revenue Service and in the Office of the Inspector General for such agencies as NASA, the Treasury Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He worked on investigations of National Aeronautics and Space Administration contractors suspected of overbilling the government and of a Treasury employee who made off with a $100-bill printing plate. And he had 46 people arrested for filing false aid claims after an earthquake in California.

Now, in Howard County, Curran said he is working with prosecutors on about two dozen white-collar cases.

Curran concedes that his specialty is not considered the easiest -- or the most glamorous.

"I think for the normal individual it might feel overwhelming and generally boring," he said. "But for those that are trained to see the wealth of information that can be found in bank records, it really can be used in many arenas."

Curran's voice quickens when he talks about all the ways financial records can be used in trials. They can show motive in a murder trial. They can document embezzlement. And the best part is, he says, evidence can't just be wiped away with a cloth like fingerprints from a doorknob.

"People think they can destroy records," Curran said. "One thing they can't destroy is bank records."

Curran can essentially piece together a crime by reviewing the records that the suspect kept and comparing them with bank records or records kept by a third party, such as a vendor.

What is a key find? When he finds nothing at all. Curran knows he is on to something when he finds omissions from records.

"When you don't see what you normally see that tells me something," Curran said.

Pub Date: 3/23/98

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