You might not think that majoring in accounting would lead to a career as a federal agent, but that’s exactly what happened to Lisa Brantley ’85. As a criminal investigator for the IRS, she ran numerous covert operations, investigating smart people who, motivated by greed, became crooks. Part of her job involved sending agents wearing concealed video- and audio- recording devices into suspect businesses to catch them in the act.
“We caught preparers on tape using bogus deductions and dependents, which resulted in larger refunds to the clients and larger kickbacks to them,” she says. “There was never a boring day or a lack of work. Millions of dollars in fraudulent tax refunds are generated each year all over the country.”
Most of her cases, however, were less glamorous and involved dogged gathering of evidence from interviews and bank records.
“That’s why knowledge of accounting applies to the job,” she says. “The accounting courses teach you the proper business cycle, which is key to figuring out if someone is defrauding or embezzling money. This always involved tracing money, but each case was its own individual puzzle.”
A native South Carolinian, Brantley was the first person in her family to attend college. She never considered anywhere except the College of Charleston, where she could commute from home and work her way through school.
A self-described practical person, Brantley wanted a skill that would result in a career. When she “stumbled into” Accounting 101 her first year, she was immediately hooked. The logic and checks and balances complemented how she viewed the world: “Right is right. Wrong is wrong.”
“Thinking back at my time at the College, I feel very fortunate that I was able to major in something so practical, while at the same time immersing myself in all the benefits of a liberal arts education,” says Brantley. “I absolutely loved taking music appreciation and higher-level history, English and Latin courses. I will sing those praises forever.”
After graduation, Brantley worked at a local CPA firm, where she learned auditing and accounting and became a licensed CPA. She went to work as a civil auditor for the IRS in Charleston in 1988, working her way up the ladder until she landed a job as a special agent.
“I quickly realized how much power my position and badge gave me,” she says. “And with that power, I felt a huge responsibility to do my job well. I never wanted my enthusiasm to get the bad guys, to overpower doing it the right way.”
After 26 years with the IRS, Brantley retired in 2014. In 2016, she joined other retired special agents from the FBI and Homeland Security to form Quick Group, a full-service licensed private investigation firm based in Charleston.
With integrity and determination, Brantley continues her fight against financial fraud. Not only does she want to do the right thing, she wants to make sure others do, as well.
Photo by Mike Ledford