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Accounting sleuths on the trail of Madoff money

Teams of 'forensic accountants' get set to trace – and maybe recover – funds lost in $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

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AP

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Accounting teams are sharpening their pencils and preparing to pore over spreadsheets in an effort to trace the money at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, which stands accused of perpetrating the largest investment scandal in history.

If the past is any indication, this group of bean counters – call them CSIs with eyeshades – will uncover some assets that can eventually be returned to bilked investors.

Known as forensic accountants, they will comb through the books – in this case multiple sets of books – in a bid to track $50 billion that Mr. Madoff has said disappeared in one giant Ponzi scheme.

"They will be looking for records, fake invoices, cooked books, red flags, anything that doesn't make sense," says Larry Crumbley, the KPMG-endowed professor of accounting at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. "They will just be following the computer and paper trail, rather than the DNA."

No one knows exactly how many forensic accountants are available to track money lost to fraud. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has 500 to 600 such accountants whose main job is tracing various types of illegal financial activity, estimates Dr. Crumbly.

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