Elora Burchette ’26 has long been interested in forensic accounting and white-collar crime investigations.
Her favorite television show is “American Greed,” a long-running documentary that shows “the dark side of the American Dream,” with true-to-life stories about credit card scams, Ponzi schemes, and other white-collar crimes.
Along the way, she became even more interested in preventing white-collar crime.
“Victims of white-collar crimes could lose life savings they may never get back,” she said. “Some lose their jobs, as businesses try to cut corners, not including the impact the business may be leaving in communities where it’s located.
“A victim of white-collar crime could be anyone, and it bothers me knowing someone I care about could be a victim. … I think some of the worst cases I’ve heard [about] or seen are people who were a victim of someone they knew and loved. I want to work white-collar crimes to save the victims, in the process of stopping corrupt individuals.”
When it came time to choose a major at the University of Lynchburg, the Westover Honors Fellow, who also works in the University’s business office, opted for accounting, with minors in finance and criminal forensics.
Burchette’s advisor, Dr. David Murphy, further cultivated her interest in white-collar crime investigation and forensic accounting.
“I took Accounting 201 with him this spring, which … helped me so much more, as he always took the time to break down accounting processes and describe the best fraud-prevention and detective tactics,” she said of the accounting professor, who retired this past spring.
“I’m very grateful I got to have him as my advisor for my first year in college, to help guide me on my career path as a forensic accountant. I can honestly say [that] without his help this year, I don’t know that I would still have my interest in forensic accounting.
“Being able to talk to him about white-collar crimes helped me in ways I know I could not have received anywhere else.”
This past summer, Burchette spent two months getting a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to investigate white-collar and other crimes for the Virginia State Police. Based out of the VSP’s Division III headquarters in Appomattox, Virginia, she shadowed field agents across Central Virginia and had a host of experiences.
She worked with dispatchers and did a ride-along with a state trooper. She witnessed vehicle safety inspections, watched bomb techs blow up a briefcase, learned how to track a cell phone, rode in the state police helicopter, went to the firearms range, and spent time with a white-collar crime accountant and an insurance fraud agent.
“By working alongside agents, troopers, and investigators in these positions, I learned so much more about the state police and how in-depth their investigations can go,” Burchette said. “I learned the role they play in regard to the general public, as well as other organizations and law enforcement — FBI, banks, local police departments, etc.
“I also learned the process of investigations from the viewpoint of an investigator and the steps they must go through in order to complete the investigation.”
Burchette even participated in actual investigations. “I went with a trooper to interview a firearms store owner about an individual falsely applying for a firearm,” she said. “In a second case … an agent took me to a crime scene of a shooting to interview witnesses and walk through the events of the day of the shooting.”
While the “most exciting parts” of her internship involved helicopters, exploding objects, and the firing range, Burchette said “being involved in the investigations and talking about current and local white-collar crimes, insurance fraud, and investigations was absolutely amazing.
“I really enjoyed being able to talk to the troopers and agents at the state police. I liked discussing the choices and paths in their lives that led them to join, how they balance working for the state police with their personal lives, and what has changed their lives and perspectives since joining.”
Burchette learned about the internship through her dad, who is a VSP electronics technician. He connected her with 1st Sgt. Greg Smith, with the VSP’s Appomattox office, who helped her through the application and background-check process this past spring.
“I want to thank [1st Sgt. Smith] for helping me … and the great experience it gave me [to see] exactly what it’s like to work as an agent or a trooper,” Burchette said. “I want to thank him for giving [me] a broad experience that allowed me to work in so many different positions with amazing people.”