Emily Jaso checks for counterfeit bills under a microscope.
“I liked that it had a mix of desk work and some out in the field, with a little bit of excitement,” said Jaso, who will graduate in May from Sam Houston State University with a degree in Criminal Justice. “I like working with numbers, and it involves working with banking, counterfeiting and credit card fraud.”
Jaso spent the 2012 spring semester working full-time at the federal agency, which is housed in the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in downtown Houston. While most people associate the U.S. Secret Service with presidential protection, its original mandate – and ongoing mission – is to safeguard the payment and financial institutions of the United States.
Jaso's office was in the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in Houston and much of the U.S. Secret Service's work is with financial institutions.
"Our mission is to protect the nation’s financial infrastructure,” said Special Agent Gee, who supervised Jaso. “That can include such things as mortgage fraud and identity theft.”
During her tenure in the office, Jaso also got to see firsthand the protection detail for President Barack Obama when he visited Houston on March 10. Jaso was at the airport when the President flew in and was part of a small group of civilians that met with him.
“It was really, really great, but he was only there for five minutes,” said Jaso, who shook Obama’s hand. “It was a lot of fun. It was neat to see so much detail that was put on one man so they could bring him into town for a couple hours.”
In addition to the Presidential visit, Jaso got to work on a Medicare fraud case by helping with the investigation and preparing an affidavit. She never realized how much work went on behind the scenes to file a case in court. Among the items that had to be secured were bank statements, credit card statements, property records and Medicare claims, to name a few.
Many cases involved a variety of fraud and required not only the cooperation among personnel within Secret Service but other federal, state, county and local law enforcement agencies as well, Gee said.
Jaso investigated fraud cases and saw Presidential protection firsthand at the Houston field office of the U.S. Secret Service.
“It is very common to find a person is involved in several types of fraud,” said Gee. “You may be the case agent, but you rely on others to help you put together the search warrant and to process evidence. We may use a criminal researcher or an investigative assistant. It‘s a lot of people working together as a team to make sure the person goes to jail or the activity stops.”
Jaso also got experience in the counterfeiting unit, where criminals find creative ways to duplicate U.S. currency. Jaso said some cases involved using half of a real bill to create two fake ones while others used sophisticated copy machines. She also witnessed a case of fake dollar coins uncovered by the agency. Most of the fake currency comes through financial institutions, and occasionally an astute bank teller or local police will call when they spot counterfeit transaction in process. That’s when the U.S. Secret Service or local police will move in to catch the suspect.
The Houston office of the U.S. Secret Service offers one to two internships a semester, including fall, spring and summer. Jaso said that SHSU College of Criminal Justice gave her a broad understanding of criminal justice and helped her with the professionalism and preparation needed to transition to a career in criminal justice. During the semester-long internship, Jaso earned nine elective credits towards her degree.
Gee said that internships allow students to learn more about agencies and gives the U.S. Secret Service an idea about the quality of programs – and future applicants – that are out there. In addition to a college degree, the U.S. Secret Service requires at least three years of professional experience. They look for candidates who have a good head on their shoulders and who have made the right decisions. Among those working for the agency are former teachers, police officers, and firefighters, Gee said.
“We are not looking for someone who is perfect,” said Gee. “We are looking for someone who is perfectly honest.”
Gee said most interns from Sam Houston State University have excelled at the agency and several alumni work at the Houston office.
“I think Dr. Dozier does a phenomenal job in screening students and the vast majority of SHSU students have excelled,” said Gee. “They are very well equipped.”