Conservation Easements Land Investors in Hot Water and Brokers Who Sold Them Could be On the Hook!

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with financial advisors and brokerage firms who recommended questionable tax shelters. Broker-dealers frequently peddle investments that are loaded with false bonuses such as earning a return on an investment plus reaping a generous tax break. Yet often those write-offs garner the attention of the IRS and can trigger a stream of tax troubles.

Syndicated conservation easements were offered as a triple win. By donating your land for conservation purposes, you could take a generous federal tax write-off. Brokers selling these partnership deals promised that for every dollar you invested, you could reap up to $4 in charitable tax deductions. The investments were packaged and sold to thousands of investors. The IRS, however, didn’t approve these partnerships and took 1,400 investors and syndicators to court, claiming the operators shorted the U.S. Treasury of some $11 billion through illegal deductions based on inflated land appraisals. Some of the originators and marketers of the partnerships face jail time.

According to Bloomberg News, “two brothers who pleaded guilty to federal charges — Stein Agee, 42, and Corey Agee, 38 — said they prepared false tax returns for clients and that each received $1.7 million in commissions from 2013 to 2019. They arranged bogus deductions on syndicated land-conservation investments around Asheville, North Carolina, and near the coast in Georgia and the Carolinas, court records show. They each could face as much as five years in prison but would likely receive less time. That’s because they are cooperating with prosecutors in Charlotte investigating an accountant and developer named Jack Fisher, who organized at least 23 such deals across the U.S., people familiar with the probe said.”

Bloomberg noted “the schemes start with entities that own undeveloped land and arrange for conservation easements that promise to never develop the property. Promoters sell shares in the entities, which convey charitable tax deductions to buyers. The size of the deduction hinges on the difference in the value of the land under the easement restriction and what it might fetch if developed to its `highest and best use.’ The IRS claims those appraisals are often inflated. That notion is fiercely contested by promoters and appraisers, who argue in court filings that the government hasn’t proved any of the land values are improper.”

The syndicated deals attracted a great deal of attention over the past year because they were also connected to a high-profile investor: former President Donald Trump.  Bloomberg adds: “In 2015, an entity related to Trump donated an easement covering 158 acres at his Seven Springs estate north of New York City, promising to forego development on the land and generating a $21 million tax break. New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating whether Trump or the Trump Organization inflated the value of some assets to get tax breaks and secure loans.” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is also said to be investigating the partnerships.

Have you invested in conservation or land easements based on the solicitation of a financial advisor, accountant, or brokerage firm that triggered an adverse IRS audit or penalty? If so, you should contact Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. at 312-332-4200 to determine whether you have a viable claim for recovery through either FINRA Arbitration or litigation. Stoltmann Law Offices offers representation to defrauded investors nationwide on a contingency fee basis, which means we do not get paid until you do!



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