Volume 8, Number 3, 1999

Accountant turns private eye

When Jennie Ann Rooth, BE '85M, was working toward her accounting degree at Delaware, she envisioned a career in a corporate environment, preferably focusing on taxation-related issues.

Well, she got the second part right.

For the past 12 years, much of Rooth's career has focused on taxes-tax evasion and fraud, to be specific-but it's hardly been a routine desk job. In fact, Rooth spent more than seven years as a gun-carrying special agent/criminal investigator with the Internal Revenue Service.

"It's funny how when people hear IRS, they tend to just think about their tax returns," she says. "But, there's a much bigger picture. We handled cases that involved major violations of federal tax laws-embezzlement, drug trafficking, those kinds of things. These weren't cases involving people who filed their taxes late."

Today, Rooth has her own business, Bahia Watch Inc. As a private investigator, she no longer goes on drug raids or kicks down doors, but she says her career still has "a wonderful edge of excitement to it."

"I love what I do,"
says Rooth, a native of Warminster, Pa. "I decided to go straight through for my master's after earning my B.A., because, quite honestly, I wasn't ready to start work yet and I wanted to broaden my career options," she says.
"I absolutely loved Delaware and, during my time there, I worked as a graduate assistant, which was a tremendous experience."

Profs. Janis Reeder, John Wragge and Jeff Gillespie inspired Rooth to be open to creative ways to use her degree, she says.

"I learned a lot about the field from all of them," she says. "They got me excited about the career opportunities."

After graduation, Rooth worked as an accountant for CPA firms in Wilmington and Georgetown, Del. In the spring of 1986, she landed a job as an associate tax accountant with Perdue Inc., where she first became involved in researching tax issues and federal court cases.

"I started to find a niche for myself. I enjoyed doing interviews and researching various things related to taxation," she says. The next year, Rooth joined the U.S. Department of the Treasury as an IRS special agent and criminal investigator. Of the 90 investigators based in Newark, N.J., only three-including Rooth-were women.

"It was really pretty exciting. I underwent intensive training, both as an investigator and as a special agent-the cops-and-robbers stuff," Rooth says. "It was kind of amazing that here I was, a trained accountant, doing 'entry,' meaning, there were times when I'd lead a raid with my gun drawn."

Rooth spent two years as a special agent in New Jersey, then transferred to Florida, where she first worked with the U.S. Department of Defense at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as a defense contract auditor.

"My position there involved, among other things, conducting detailed audits for contract proposals and contracts for NASA," she recalls. "It was interesting work, but I really missed being a special agent, so I returned to that."

Rooth learned that being a special agent in Florida was a quite different job than in the Garden State.

"The two regions are like night and day, and so is the type of criminal activity you'd see," Rooth says. "In Newark, I was involved in such financially oriented stuff as embezzlement and other white-collar crime. In Florida, the cases were much more drug-related. As a result, many of our investigations were conducted with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency."

One Florida case involved a family-run plant business that was used as a front to store and distribute hundreds of pounds of marijuana.

"It was interesting because this family had a very successful, legitimate business. But, behind the scenes, it was another story altogether," she says.

Another case involved a chiropractor who pretended to lease office equipment while he pocketed the money slated to go to the equipment manufacturer.

"It was a very elaborate scam. In fact, the things this doctor said he was leasing never existed," Rooth recalls. "He bought oceanfront property with the money he pocketed, drove Porsches and led an incredibly lavish party lifestyle-until it all caught up with him."

Three years after his scam began, the chiropractor defaulted on the loans, a move that resulted in an FBI investigation. The FBI, in turn, called on the IRS Criminal Investigation Division to assist with the case.

"The IRS/CID is the premier financial investigator in the world," Rooth says.

Her career with the IRS ended two years ago after a car accident left her with an eye injury.

"I wasn't sure what to do next," Rooth admits. "So much of my identity was tied up with being a special agent." She decided to teach accounting at a local community college, a position "I very much enjoyed." But, before long, Rooth was getting calls from retired IRS special agents who were seeking her help as a free-lance investigator.

"I sort of eased back into it, and, before long, I realized that I could run my own business," Rooth says. In 1997, she established Bahia Watch. "Bahia means 'bay,' and it's a very commonly used word in Florida," Rooth says. "It seemed like the perfect name for my business."

Now that she's in business for herself, Rooth, who works out of her home in Ocala, says she finds that many people make assumptions about the nature of a private investigator's work.

"Usually, the first thing they think is that I spy on husbands and wives," Rooth says. "That's precisely the kind of case I don't take. I do corporate and criminal cases, not divorce or domestic cases."

Many of those cases, not surprisingly, involve issues related to taxes.

"I spend a lot of time locating and interviewing people," says Rooth. "Many cases involve a good deal of research and writing reports."

And, since she runs her own business, Rooth says her background is perfect.

"As an entrepreneur, I do everything myself," she says, "all my own taxes, all the bookkeeping. In terms of both my profession and my company, there's no getting around how vital my background and education in accounting have been."

-Nicole Pensiero