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Global Public Policy

IRS increases scrutiny of conservation easements

November 13, 2019

The IRS is aggressively auditing dozens of tax-exempt organizations involved in conservation easements. The agency is particularly concerned about syndicated conservation easements, where investors pool funds to buy assets and then share the tax benefits from the conservation easement donations. Syndicated conservation easements are included on the IRS's 2019 "Dirty Dozen" list of tax scams to avoid.

The examinations focus on dubious valuations that inflate the value of the donations.

An IRS announcement warned that participants, appraisers, promoters, material advisers, accommodating entities and tax return preparers could all face consequences. The Tax Court already has 80 related cases on its dockets and the IRS plans to bring more. 

“We will not stop in our pursuit of everyone involved in the creation, marketing, promotion and wrongful acquisition of artificial, highly inflated deductions based on these aggressive transactions,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement.

The Senate Finance Committee is also investigating these transactions. Earlier this year it subpoenaed several individuals. One of those is alleged by the US Department of Justice to have grossly overvalued 58 transactions resulting in over $1.8 billion worth of federal tax deductions.