FBI Citizens' Academy shows changes in agency

By Jane Ann Morrison
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Not everything presented at the FBI Citizens' Academy touted what agents do as crime fighters. Much of it was about what regular folks can do to protect themselves and their families.

Special Agent David Schrom of the cyber crimes squad emphatically said the single most important thing parents can do to prevent their child from being seduced via the Internet is to move the computer out of the child's bedroom. Put the computer in a common room where parents can see and ask about what their children are doing.

"If my brother's kid can be attacked (on the Internet), any kid can," Schrom said.

His brother, also an FBI agent, didn't have that necessary conversation about Internet rules with his 11-year-old daughter. A predator tried to take advantage of that.

Schrom said recent studies show that those who view child porn are far more likely to become child molesters than previously thought. Until recently, the conventional wisdom was that kiddie porn viewers weren't likely to act out. Now it's thought they do, Schrom said.

That puts a different twist on acceptance of those who view child pornography as a perversion that doesn't hurt anyone. Child porn might not be so harmless.

"The stuff we learned about child pornography and Internet crimes, that's stuff I can use both personally and professionally," said Doug Poppa, director of security and surveillance at the Riviera hotel-casino, one of 16 people in this year's Las Vegas FBI Citizens' Academy.

By the time it's over May 25, he will have invested more than 20 hours in it.

Poppa believes people think of the FBI as it was under J. Edgar Hoover, with secret files, black bag operations and wiretaps on Martin Luther King Jr. What he sees in today's FBI is nothing like the bureau he worked with when he was in law enforcement for 13 years.

"It's a much better organization than it was 20 or 30 years ago."

The FBI Citizens' Academy offers face-to-face interaction with experienced agents, mostly supervisors and above, and most pass out their business cards like jelly beans.

"They're hoping that maybe someday we can get wind of something and that they can stop a terrorist act or a major crime. Now they have another contact on the outside. If that's what it is, then the whole idea is fantastic," Poppa said.

Since the start of the program in Las Vegas seven years ago, 85 people have graduated from the Citizens' Academy. Nationwide, about 10,000 people have attended.

The session about the ongoing mortgage fraud investigation was numerically staggering. There are so many potential targets, about 1,000, the FBI has made its priority those mortgage fraud instances in which the losses are at least $1 million, said Assistant Special Agent in Charge William Woerner.

Every day, the FBI receives between 10 and 25 complaints about mortgage fraud. Sometimes it's a civil case, sometimes it's criminal. The eight-agency Southern Nevada Mortgage Fraud Task Force number is 702-584-5555.

Richard Beasley, supervisor of the squad investigating public corruption, health care fraud and civil rights violations, described how Medicare and home health care are fraught with overbilling and kickbacks.

If someone notices a bill for services that weren't rendered, the FBI and the Nevada attorney general want to hear about it. That's how they see patterns develop. Perhaps a patient receives services on three days, but the government is billed for four days.

Beyond educating 16 Southern Nevadans, the FBI has another purpose for the citizens' academies.

Since it's sweeps week on TV, I'll tease it with overreaching drama. Pretend you hear a deep voice breathlessly announcing: "Is the FBI trying to turn you into a spy? Tune in Monday."

Copyright 2010 Las Vegas Review-Journal

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