Conservation Appraisers Strike Back At IRS With Class Action Suit Internal Revenue Service federal building Washington DC USA Finally the syndicated conservation easement (SCE) empire strikes back. Battered in Tax Court by the IRS, hounded by the Department of Justice seeking criminal charges and injunctions and beleaguered by class action attorneys SCE appraisers are fighting back with a class action lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury along with some individually named IRS agents. I don't suppose the latter want to be more famous so you will have to go to the complaint in Benson et al. v IRS et al for their names. The complaint was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The most mysterious defendant is the IRS employee known as "Campaign Executive Champion" (CEC) of the "Conservation Tax Force" (CTF). If those named IRS agents are like the Avengers, then CEC is Nick Fury. Representing the appraisers is S. Fenn Little Jr of the Conservation Defense Group Inc. Mr. Little was one of the lawyers representing Nancy Zak in a DOJ injunction lawsuit . His website describes his practice as concentrated in the areas of criminal defense, constitutional law and personal injury litigation. He is an allied attorney of the Alliance Defense Fund . His practice involves allegations of police misconduct, government restrictions on the free exercise of religion, and other civil and constitutional rights violations. He had nothing to say about Nancy Zak, but gave me the heads up on this case. The complaint alleges a conspiracy by CTF under the direction of CEC. The goal was to audit every syndicated easement from 2016 to the present. The IRS has been conducting the audits at great expense to the plaintiffs and requesting an extension to continue the audit over an extended period of time. I have to say that back in the day, the general thinking was to accommodate the IRS when they asked for an extension, but my view shifted on that a few years ago. After all that work, according to the complaint, the "universal and preordained result" is a zero valuation for the donation and penalties for the appraiser. Mr. Little gets a little disingenuous stating that in court 87% of the cases settle without penalty and 80% of the deductions allowed. That statement is based on an "empirical study"- a Tax Notes article by Jenny L. Johnson Ware that I reviewed here . The most recent case in the study concerned deductions from 2005-2007. One decision was about a 2011 deduction. The rest were earlier. The study is in effect ancient history well before the present day SCE frenzy commenced and none of the cases in the study were syndicated deals. The complaint insists that the IRS push contradicts Congressional intent, since it would deny the conservation deduction to anyone other than a handful of wealthy owners. Current congressional intent seems to be more supportive of the IRS cracking down at least as it is reflected in the Senate Finance Committee investigation . The complaint, in a footnote, has an interesting view as to what a good thing easements can be. It reference the National Tree Benefit Calculator , which is a really cool tool that you should check out. It tells you how much benefit to society (in terms of things like carbon sequestration, storm water retention, energy saving from the shade and air quality) a particular tree provides. The pine tree by the mailbox in my condo project is cranking out $109 per year. Anyway 1,000 acres of 10" pine trees at 100 per acre will in Georgia create $4.3 million in public benefit.https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterjreilly/2021/04/08/conservation-appraisers-strike-back-at-irs-with-class-action-suit/
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