Using forensic accounting tools to hunt down fraudsters is life’s work for Raymond Dookhie—a job that at times is intense and difficult. It’s not surprising, then, that his other passion may very well be the polar opposite: spinning records at family’s and friends’ events (at no charge, of course). “I play Indo-Caribbean music, Soca (‘Soul of Calypso’), reggae, Bollywood covers—fun, fast-paced dance music.”
Perhaps not what you would expect an accountant to be doing with his spare time, but then, Ray is not the only finance whiz to have been found in a DJ booth.
We recently spent some time learning about Ray, his work, and the key moments in his career.
Surely you had no plans to end up a forensic accountant when you were in high school. How did that happen?
I don’t think anyone grows up thinking they’re going to be an accountant, or knows what a forensic accountant is, but it turns out my dad was an accountant. When I was growing up, he was earning a living as a carpenter building cabinets, but I learned much later that he started his career as an accountant and bookkeeper.
For me, it was a natural path. I went to Long Island City High School (in Queens), and I took an elective class in “Preparation of Tax Returns.” I loved it, and I decided, “I’m going to do tax returns for the rest of my life.”
And how did you broaden into the forensic work you do now?
At Queens College, I learned about all aspects of accounting. The basics of debits and credits were easy for me; I guess that makes me an accounting nerd. I eased into forensic accounting when I found an internship with the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI). I immediately fell in love with forensic accounting and fraud investigations. As part of my training, I learned about Al Capone, and how accountants were the ones who took him down. That’s when I said, “I ALSO want to take down crooks.” I was going to work for DOI for the rest of my life.
And what was the case that hooked you?
The case that hooked me involved a consultant who was working for several different city agencies. We discovered that he would attend a meeting for an hour, on, say, how to streamline an agency’s work. And then he would bill each of eight agencies an hour for his time in that meeting. It was the quick route to an eight-hour day.
We built a good case on him, and he was convicted and served time
What spurred your next move?
I had decided I wanted certification as a CPA, and to become certified, I needed to work under one. At the time, there weren’t any CPAs at DOI, but I learned from a friend that there were several CPAs at the Financial Crimes Bureau of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. I made the move and worked on some great cases.
Perhaps my most famous case was the Air for Oil case, where the D.A. teamed up with my old employer, DOI. An oil company had a contract to deliver oil to many of the city-owned buildings. It took us a while to figure this out, but they were overbilling in an ingenious way; they rigged the meters on the trucks to read not only the oil they were delivering, but also the air they were pumping out. They would switch tanks from oil to air, and the meters would keep on counting; everything they pumped would register as oil, but a significant portion of it was air. Forensic accounting is not always as glorious as people imagine—this case involved the review of over 500 boxes of documents obtained from a raid of the company’s offices. After searching through what seemed to be an endless count of boxes, I found the infamous “black book” or logbook that documented the entire scheme. The book was essential in helping to quantify the value of overbilling to the City of New York.
That’s a great catch!
Yes, and it was nice to be recognized for it as well. When we closed the case, Robert Morgenthau (NY County D.A. from 1975 to 2009) publicly thanked all the investigators, and he mentioned many people, including me, by name.
Your next stop was a Big Four accounting firm.
Obviously, the Big Four have a reputation as sought-after employers, so it can be daunting to interview there. But Rich Girgenti, formerly of the D.A.’s Office, now vice chair at K2 Integrity, was the head of the forensic accounting practice at one of the Big Four firms at the time. He hired me and gave me the opportunity be a consultant. This was an awesome experience for me. It opened the door to a wide variety of clients and cases, and gave me the opportunity to travel the world. My clients were global, which meant I was able to travel to Moscow, London, Paris, Germany, and Mexico City; I loved it.
Any particular case that sticks out?
Oh, that’s easy: the Russia case. A colleague of mine who grew up in Russia but lived and worked in London at the time accompanied me on a business trip to Russia for a financial fraud case. There were allegations of fraudulent financial reporting potentially involving someone in sales.
We arrived at the site, and the plant manager welcomed us and arranged transportation and lodging outside of the city, in the country. But as we got further into the investigation, it became clear that the plant manager himself was involved.
I remember being driven around by a big guy who worked for the plant manager and we found ourselves on a stretch of road with nothing around us but a ditch, and trees on both sides.
I turned to my friend and I said, “It’s been really good knowing you.”
But we survived the drive, went back to Moscow, and insisted on interviewing the manager at the hotel in the city, not out at the lodge in the country. I remember the interview like it was yesterday. We had a fax—this were the days when there were faxes—that clearly indicated that the plant manager knew about the misdeeds. We confronted him with the fax and the facts, and it seemed to prove his guilt. “You must have seen this fax, which came to your office on a day you were there,” we said.
And this is where he behaved like so many others caught, guilty of a crime. They deflect. They start with “I don’t know.” Then, they have to check where they were that day. They try to find comfort by asking to speak to their mom, their spouse, or a friend. This is usually indicative of guilt. This individual asked to speak to his wife to confirm whether he was in the office on the day that the fax came in.
Tell me about your more recent past—your time here at K2 Integrity.
K2 Integrity was natural fit for me. I was looking for my next move, and K2 Integrity was in growth mode.
It’s been great. I dove right into a large integrity monitorship with the State of New York. I recently worked on a litigation support project where key personnel left our client and decided to steal business away from the client. I’ve worked on matters related to COVID, with individuals trying to submit duplicate benefit claims with multiple agencies during the pandemic. There are always bad people who are going to do bad things and, as such, there will always be a need for forensic accountants.
Ray, what would you say the biggest changes have been over your decades in the profession?
Automation! Even when I was back in government, we started to use technology. Now you scan millions of documents into a system, and run search terms to find what you’re looking for. That has certainly changed exponentially over the last decade or two. We gather millions of transactions from client systems or banks, and we are sure to find indicia of money laundering or fraud possibly hidden in there. With a few keystrokes, you are able to reduce the volume of records subject to manual review by a huge factor.
So where is the human element?
No matter how smart the machines are, their use doesn’t take away from our role. There’s no substitute for investigative instinct and insights during an interview or when reviewing a transaction that just doesn’t seem right.
Given your interaction with government, in all your positions, what are you seeing in the six months, so far, of the Biden administration?
We just did a podcast about this. There has certainly been an increased focus on regulatory compliance. We think the SEC, OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control), and other so-called alphabet agencies are going to intensify their oversight of and focus on highly regulated industries. We also see an uptick in activity from the pandemic and economic crisis. Of course, we have to watch out for cyber crime, and the manipulation of cryptocurrencies. We also will see a lot more attention on the effectiveness of corporate compliance programs overall.
And then, you have to watch out for the next Bernie Madoff.
Tell us about the rest of your life.
May 2021 marks my 25th wedding anniversary with my wife. We’ve known each other since high school. My sons seem to be following in my footsteps and those of my father. My eldest son is starting his career as an auditor with a Big Four accounting firm. The second is in college and is also pursuing accounting. My third child is still in high school. She’s the smartest of all of us, and is also athletic. We don’t know what she’ll do as yet, but she has a keen interest in law and human rights.
As far as good causes, I do what I can for the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. Those diseases have touched my family and friends, and those are great institutions.
Finally, Ray, do you have any advice for young accountants, or students considering the profession?
As long as there are incentives or pressures to increase profits and stay ahead of analyst expectations, or opportunities to make easy money, there will be fraudsters and scam artists! Those are the people that provide job security for forensic accountants and auditors.
If the concepts of debits and credits come naturally to you, you may be an accountant in the making. For anyone looking to be a forensic accountant, I recommend seeking internships with government offices that focus on the investigation and prosecution of financial crimes. My internship with DOI crystalized my career path of catching bad actors with Excel spreadsheets and bank statements.