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Georgia Southern graduate students gain real-world experience through mock trial

During a recent mock trial, Jenni Karpowich and her peers in the Forensic Accounting Certificate program at Georgia Southern University gained first-hand experience investigating and bringing to court a Ponzi scheme. 

The mock trial has been a part of the expert witnessing course for 13 years, and it serves as a way for graduate students in the Master of Accounting program (MAcc) to put into practice everything they’ve learned in class.

“At the beginning of the semester, I was overwhelmed by the idea of the mock trial,” Karpowich said. “Throughout the semester we learned how to prepare expert reports, handle cross-examination and direct examination, and ways to communicate with attorneys.” 

Tom Buckhoff, Ph.D., professor of accounting, provides the students with a real court case, some of which he has provided expert testimony in. Students take on the roles of lawyers, jurors, witnesses and spectators during the court case, which is held in a courtroom at the Bulloch County Courthouse and presided over by a local judge. 

“I know of no better way for graduate students to practice what they have learned in expert witnessing than to participate in a mock trial,” stated Buckhoff. “They learn much from the successes and failures they experience in the courtroom and gain professional confidence in the process.”

This year’s court case involved the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and MSC Holdings. The team representing the SEC was charged with proving that MSC Holdings operated as a Ponzi scheme by showing MSC Holdings falsely promised investors artificially high rates of return with little or no risk. The students had to show that MSC Holdings used funds from newly-recruited investors to pay off himself and the existing investors and that MSC Holdings involved little or no actual business activity producing revenue.

Karpowich and her peers, who represented the SEC, prepared for weeks leading up to the mock trial and even had to change direction at the last minute. Ultimately, her team failed to prove that MSC Holdings was a Ponzi scheme. 

“I personally think losing the mock trial was the best learning experience because I [was able to learn] from our mistakes and think about how I can improve,” she said. “The feedback that was given by the jury and the audience will help me grow in my career as an expert witness. I am extremely grateful for the mock trial for giving me the first look at what my future holds.”

Genesis De La Cruz conducted the cross-examination of witnesses on the case. The mock trial gave her a sense of place identity. 

“I was able to feel what it is like to be in court, around a judge and a jury, and learning the court procedures,” De La Cruz said. “It is certainly an experience in which I will be able to look back on when it is time to prepare for my first real case. I am truly thankful for having such a professor like Dr. Buckhoff who prepared us for this and who also continues to help us so we can be a successful forensic accountant like him one day.”  

The expert witnessing course and the Forensic Accounting Certificate is part of the School of Accountancy’s MAcc program in the Parker College of Business. For more information, visit Parker.GeorgiaSouthern.edu/soa/forensic-certificate

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