Senate Finance Committee Releases Conservation Easement Data

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Matthew L. Roberts

Matthew L. Roberts



Mr. Roberts is a Principal of the firm. He devotes a substantial portion of his legal practice to helping his clients successfully navigate and resolve their federal tax disputes, either administratively, or, if necessary, through litigation. As a trusted advisor he has provided legal advice and counsel to hundreds of clients, including individuals and entrepreneurs, non-profits, trusts and estates, partnerships, and corporations.

Having served nearly three years as an attorney-advisor to the Chief Judge of the United States Tax Court in Washington, D.C., Mr. Roberts leverages his unique insight into government processes to offer his clients creative, innovative, and cost-effective solutions to their tax problems. In private practice, he has successfully represented clients in all phases of a federal tax dispute, including IRS audits, appeals, litigation, and collection matters. He also has significant experience representing clients in employment tax audits, voluntary disclosures, FBAR penalties and litigation, trust fund penalties, penalty abatement and waiver requests, and criminal tax matters.

Often times, Mr. Roberts has been engaged to utilize his extensive knowledge of tax controversy matters to assist clients in their transactional matters. For example, he has provided tax advice to businesses on complex tax matters related to domestic and international transactions, formations, acquisitions, dispositions, mergers, spin-offs, liquidations, and partnership divisions.

In addition to federal tax disputes, Mr. Roberts has represented clients in matters relating to white-collar crimes, estate and probate disputes, fiduciary disputes, complex contractual and settlement disputes, business disparagement and defamation claims, and other complex civil litigation matters.

Senate Finance Committee Releases Conservation Easement Data

In a previous Insight, I discussed the Senate Finance Committee’s report on conservation easements. On September 21, 2020, the Senate Finance Committee released additional statistics on conservation easements, recognizing a “significant increase in syndicated conservation easement transactions.”  This Insight reproduces the Senate Finance Committee’s September 21, 2020, media release below:

WASHINGTON — Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today released IRS data showing a significant increase in syndicated conservation easement transactions.

Last month, the Finance Committee released a bipartisan report on syndicated conservation easement transactions.

Of note, the new IRS data show that despite IRS designating them as potentially-abusive tax shelter transactions, promoters of syndicated conservation easements have continued to push the schemes. Between 2017 and 2018 the number of individual participants increased from 14,000 to 16,900, with many participating in multiple deals.  And the total amount of deductions claimed through these tax shelters increased from $6.8 billion in 2017 to $9.2 billion in 2018.

Notably, it is a small number of unscrupulous actors who make these deals possible. In its latest figures, IRS identified only 34 appraisers who provided valuations on some 296 syndicated conservation easement transactions.

“The numbers provided by IRS show that dubious syndicated conservation easement tax shelters are a growing problem. Using sham partnerships to essentially buy tax breaks like this undermines the fairness of the American tax system, deprives the Treasury of revenue and leaves all other taxpayers out to dry. Our bipartisan report detailed this exact problem and concluded that every part of the federal government needs to take further action to crack down on these schemes,” Grassley said.

“Our bipartisan report detailed serious and persistent abuse of the syndicated conservation easement program. This new IRS data, which shows a significant increase in these transactions in recent years, reinforces our findings,” said Wyden. “Of particular concern, transactions continued to increase even after the IRS flagged them as potential tax shelters. Cracking down on abusive syndicated conservation easements requires ensuring IRS has the resources and legal tools to do its job, and I’m eager to work in a bipartisan way to get that done.”

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