An accounting degree can take you anywhere including the FBI
At the culmination of one of the most shocking financial crimes in the Cedar Valley, FBI agent and University of Northern Iowa alumnus Scott Irwin (Accounting ‘99) was there to make the arrest.
The man under arrest was Russell Wasendorf, who, in the years prior, had been a pillar of the community. He owned a high-end Italian restaurant, several residences valued in the millions and a company, Peregrine Financial Group, which had been in operation for 20 years.
But behind the scenes, Wasendorf was running an intricate scam, secretly withdrawing money from his clients’ accounts and covering his tracks with fraudulent bank statements. From the early 1990s through 2012, Wasendorf stole $215 million from more than 13,000 customers.
His revealed crimes were a stunning revelation for the community, and Irwin’s work with the FBI was a key part in bringing them to light.
But the scandal was just one highlight of a career in law enforcement that has sent Irwin on investigations ranging from financial crimes to murder cases. And on Monday, Nov. 4, Irwin returned to UN to speak with the UNIBusiness Accounting Club about his journey from a UNI student to an FBI agent, sharing stories of his time in the bureau and imparting advice on the many directions an accounting degree can take students.
“(Irwin) told stories of his cases that dealt with everything from white collar crime to drug busts,” said Jaden Nesbitt, an accounting major and vice president of the Accounting Club. “He highlighted the variety of paths one can take with an accounting major.”
Irwin graduated from UNI with an accounting degree in 1999 and started a career as a public accountant. He described to the club that he felt called to a higher purpose, Nesbitt said, and joined the FBI.
From there, he’s worked on a range of cases, such as financial fraud, human trafficking, illicit drugs, gang violence and even terrorism.
And as exciting as Irwin’s career has been, his path is just one of many options students learn about in the program.
“Accounting students spend time learning about the intricacies of financial reporting, personal and corporate tax accounting, data analytics and artificial intelligence in accounting systems, auditing, and modern manufacturing accounting,” said Timothy Lindquist, an accounting professor. “UNI alumni with degrees in accounting are among the leaders of American industry, often serving as CFOs or CEOs in Fortune 500 companies.”
This flexibility was a key takeaway for students attending Irwin’s presentation.
“I’m always told a career in accounting can take you anywhere,” said Isaac Lafleur, an accounting major and president of the Accounting Club. “If anything, this is truly proof of that saying.”