March 23, 2024

New York fund manager Andrew Beer got an unsolicited email offer a few months ago that sounded too good to be true — join other investors to buy 276 acres of land in Mississippi, promise never to develop it, and get whopping tax deductions of as much as five times the amount invested.

The pitch was for what’s known as a syndicated conservation easement, a land deal that the Internal Revenue Service says is often an abusive tax shelter. The offer came from a family office with a website touting partnerships with Middle East wealth funds. As an added enticement, the salesman offered Beer options to insure against the risk of IRS audits and investor-liability lawsuits.

While no one has alleged anything improper with the Mississippi deal, Beer rejected it as “economically absurd.” Still, plenty of others have said “yes” to similar ones marketed across the U.S. by large networks of brokers, financial advisers, accountants and lawyers.

For some wealthy investors, expanded government crackdowns on those land deals are creating financial and legal headaches. IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told a Senate panel last month that 28,000 taxpayers are under examination, and the agency has challenged $21 billion in tax deductions claimed for syndicated conservation easement investments from 2016 through 2018. Some investors may owe millions of dollars in back taxes, as well as substantial penalties.

Charles Rettig, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), testified…

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