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January 27, 2024
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Internationally Recognized Appraisal Expert Witness and Litigation Support Specialist Equity Development Systems, Ltd Help Secure Acquittal of Clay Weibel in High-Profile IRS Prosecution

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Updated January 9, 2024— A federal jury in Atlanta, Georgia, has delivered a resounding verdict of acquittal for Clay Weibel, who was facing a litany of charges related to his alleged involvement in a billion-dollar syndicated conservation easement tax scheme spanning nearly two decades. The successful appraisal defense was orchestrated by internationally renowned Appraisal Expert Witnesses Steven N. Siegler ASA, FRICS, and Barry Shea, ASA, IFA, ARM, of the U.S.-based litigation appraisal firm of Equity Development Systems, Ltd in collaboration with the esteemed Moore Tax Law Group, LLC.

Clay Weibel had been indicted on several counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aiding and assisting the filing of false tax returns, and subscribing to false tax returns, all in connection with a highly complex and protracted tax shelter scheme involving syndicated conservation easements. The case drew national attention, reflecting the significance of this legal battle and the potential implications for similar cases across the country.

Appraisal Expert Witnesses Steven N. Siegler ASA, FRICS, and Barry Shea, ASA, IFA, ARM, both distinguished members of the international appraisal community, played pivotal roles in securing Weibel’s acquittal. They provided appraisal consulting and litigation-support services that ultimately dismantled the prosecution’s case. The prosecution’s expert, Charles T. Brigden, MAI, CRE, FRICS of Jones Lang LaSalle, faced formidable opposition from Siegler and Shea, whose extensive experience and in-depth knowledge of appraisal practices and law proved instrumental in dismantling the government’s case.

The verdict in favor of Clay Weibel marks a significant milestone in this high-stakes legal battle and sets a precedent for future cases related to appraisals in syndicated conservation easements and tax shelters. It underscores the importance of having highly qualified appraisal expert witnesses who can provide crucial insights and evidence to the defense.

Messrs. Siegler and Shea have long-standing reputations for their expertise and integrity within the global valuation and legal communities, and their contribution to this case reaffirms their commitment to the pursuit of justice and fairness in legal matters of this nature.

For more information on this groundbreaking legal victory and the expert witnesses involved contact us: https://edsltd.com/equity-development-systems-ltd-contact-us/

 
About Appraisal Expert Witness Steven N. Siegler, ASA, FRICS

Mr. Siegler is an Accredited Senior Appraiser (ASA) with and was honored to serve as the founding International Chairman of Appraisal Review and Management (ARM) for the American Society of Appraisers from 2002-2011. The ASA is the oldest and largest multidisciplinary appraisal—valuation organization in the world with some 5,000 members in 137 countries globally. Mr. Siegler co-authored and directed the implementation of the ASA’s Appraisal Review and Management Principles of Valuations series of courses and best practices—the cornerstone of Appraisal Expert Witness Testimony—that are now taught to professional valuers, government officials, legal experts, and many others throughout the world.

Additionally, Steven holds international valuation accreditation as a Member of the College of Fellows of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (FRICS). RICS, with headquarters in London, is the leading organization of its kind in the world for more than 100,000 qualified professionals in commercial and residential development, construction and project management, brokerage, planning and finance, and valuation. Mr. Siegler is the only RICS-accredited expert witness in the Western Hemisphere and one of only a handful of such expert witnesses in the world holding the much-coveted RICS Expert Witness Accreditation Service (EWAS) and Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) certifications.

Mr. Siegler holds TS Clearance with the U.S. Government and is uniquely qualified to practice in national-security-related valuation and other special matters before U.S. Government agencies.

When, as part of Dodd-Frank, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), acting for and on behalf of the U.S. Federal Reserve and all inter-agency regulators, sought the appraisal expertise to develop, implement, and monitor the new National Appraisal Ordering and Appraisal Review Protocols for the United States and all U.S. territories, it came to Mr. Siegler.

Steven specializes and is most active in providing appraisal expert witness testimony and litigation-support services to attorneys and law firms throughout the world. He is a Super Appraiser®  Elite-Rated member of the peer-voted Super Appraisers®  Global Network of international appraisal luminaries, and he has prevailed in Billions of Dollars at issue in some of the world’s most complex—important—high-profile—and valuable valuation-related cases.

EDS’s unparalleled level of expertise is recognized and appreciated in boardrooms and courtrooms throughout the world. How may we be of service to you?

Contact Us Now!

Appraisal Expert Witness

 
 
Department of Justice Press Release
 

Two Tax Shelter Promoters Found Guilty in Billion-Dollar Syndicated Conservation Easement Tax Scheme

 
 
For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs
 
Defendants Sold Over $1.3 Billion in Fraudulent Tax Deductions
 

A federal jury sitting in Atlanta convicted Jack Fisher and James Sinnott today of conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aiding and assisting the filing of false tax returns and subscribing to false tax returns. Fisher was also convicted of money laundering.

The convictions stem from Fisher and Sinnott’s fraudulent tax shelter scheme involving syndicated conservation easements dating back nearly two decades. A co-defendant, Clay Weibel, was acquitted. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Timothy Batten for the Northern District of Georgia remanded Fisher and Sinnott into custody pending their sentencing.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Fisher and Sinnott designed, marketed and sold to high-income clients abusive syndicated conservation easement tax shelters based on fraudulently inflated charitable contribution tax deductions, promising them deductions 4.5 times the amount the taxpayer clients paid.

The evidence proved that Fisher and Sinnott used the funds raised from their taxpayer clients to buy land and property holding companies and then had the tax shelters cause the companies to donate the land or a conservation easement over the land – often within days or weeks of purchase. To reach the inflated fair market value of the donations, Fisher and Sinnott primarily used appraisals of the conservation easements and fee simple land donations at valuations often more than 10 times higher than what Fisher and Sinnott actually paid to acquire the property.

The evidence further showed that Fisher and Sinnott backdated or instructed others to backdate false documents to present to the IRS, including subscription agreements, payment documents, engagement letters and other records. Fisher’s accountant, who testified at trial and previously pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme, prepared tax returns claiming charitable contribution tax deductions in the fraudulently inflated amounts reported in the false appraisals, resulting in fraudulent tax deductions flowing to the clients who purchased units in the abusive and illegal tax shelters. The evidence demonstrated that Fisher, Sinnott and others received more than $41 million in payments that were backdated or late for false and inflated tax deductions.

In total, the defendants sold over $1.3 billion in fraudulent tax deductions through this scheme.

The government proved that Fisher and Sinnott made millions from their scheme. Fisher used the illegal proceeds to purchase a Mercedes Benz automobile, a private jet and an RV and trailer. Fisher also used proceeds of the scheme to purchase homes in the United States and on the Caribbean island of Bonaire, which the jury found to be forfeitable.

Fisher and Sinnott face a maximum penalty ranging between three and twenty years in prison for each count of conviction. The government is also seeking the forfeiture of monetary proceeds and real properties purchased by Fisher and Sinnott in connection with their fraud scheme. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan for the Northern District of Georgia and IRS-Criminal Investigation Chief Jim Lee made the announcement, also thanking U.S. Attorney Dena J. King for the Western District of North Carolina for her office’s assistance.

IRS-Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigated the case.

Trial Attorneys Richard M. Rolwing, Parker Tobin, Jessica Kraft, Grace Albinson and Nicholas J. Schilling Jr. of the Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Huber, who also serves as Deputy Chief of the Complex Frauds Section, for the Northern District of Georgia are prosecuting the case.

Updated September 22, 2023

 

Department of Justice Press Release

 

Two Tax Shelter Promoters Sentenced to 25 Years and 23 Years in Billion-Dollar Syndicated Conservation Easement Tax Scheme; Two More CPAs Plead Guilty

 
 
For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs
 
Sold Over $1.3 Billion in Fraudulent Tax Deductions

 

Two men were sentenced today for crimes arising from their organization, promotion and sale of abusive syndicated conservation easement tax shelters.

Jack Fisher, a certified public accountant (CPA) who began selling units in his abusive tax shelters at least as early as 2008, was sentenced to 25 years in prison. James Sinnott, an attorney who joined Fisher’s scheme in 2013 and oversaw the massive expansion of the tax shelters’ fraudulent deduction amounts claimed from the IRS, was sentenced to 23 years in prison. Also today, Victor Smith and William Tomasello, both Atlanta-area CPAs, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States.

“Using inflated appraisals, backdated documents and other sham actions, these conspirators generated more than $1.3 billion in fraudulent syndicated conservation easement tax deductions, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to the U.S. Treasury,” said Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “The significant sentences and convictions obtained are the direct result of the skill and tenacity of career prosecutors and agents, whose multiyear investigation pulled back the curtain on this massive criminal scheme.”

“Today’s message should be a clear one: IRS CI Special Agents will use their financial investigative expertise to hold those involved in abusive tax shelter schemes accountable,” said Chief Jim Lee of IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS CI). “As this complex investigation continues to evolve, today’s judicial actions illustrate our resolve to hold responsible every individual involved in tax evasion schemes.”

Jack Fisher and James Sinnott

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Fisher, Sinnott and their co-conspirators sold over $1.3 billion in fraudulent tax deductions, leading to a tax loss to the IRS of over $450 million. Five other tax professionals involved in Fisher’s scheme previously pleaded guilty. Fisher was not only a pioneer in the conservation easement industry, but also one of its biggest promoters across the country. Fisher and Sinnott each made millions of dollars promoting and selling their tax shelters to wealthy taxpayers. The two men also used fraudulent deductions generated by their tax shelters on their own personal income tax returns to reduce the taxes they owed on the millions earned.

A federal jury sitting in Atlanta convicted Fisher and Sinnott on Sept. 22, 2023, of conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aiding and assisting the filing of false tax returns and subscribing to false tax returns arising out of their fraudulent tax shelter scheme involving syndicated conservation easements dating back nearly two decades. Fisher was also separately found guilty of money laundering. One of the appraisers who was charged with Fisher and Sinnott pleaded guilty and was sentenced in November 2023. Fisher’s primary assistant, Kate Joy, who was also indicted, remains a fugitive.

The evidence proved that Fisher and Sinnott designed, marketed and sold to high-income clients abusive syndicated conservation easement tax shelters based on fraudulently inflated charitable contribution tax deductions, promising them deductions 4.5 times the amount the taxpayer clients paid to buy the deductions.  

Fisher and Sinnott used the funds raised from their taxpayer clients to buy land through their property holding companies and then had the tax shelters cause those companies to donate the land or a conservation easement over the land – often within days or weeks of the land’s purchase. To reach the inflated fair market value of the donations, Fisher and Sinnott primarily used appraisals of the conservation easements and fee simple land donations at valuations often more than 10 times higher than the price Fisher and Sinnott actually paid to acquire the property.

The evidence further showed that Fisher and Sinnott backdated and instructed others to falsely backdate documents to be presented to the IRS, including subscription agreements, payment documents, engagement letters and other records. Fisher’s accountant, a partner at the accounting firm Fisher started, testified at trial and previously pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme. Along with Fisher and Sinnott, he oversaw the preparation of false tax returns, which claimed charitable contribution tax deductions based upon the false appraisals. The evidence demonstrated that Fisher, Sinnott and others received more than $41 million in payments from the sale of units in these tax shelters that involved backdated documents or untimely payments, which were paid to claim fraudulent and inflated tax deductions.

The government proved that Fisher and Sinnott personally made millions from their scheme. Fisher, specifically, used the illegal proceeds to purchase luxury items, including a Mercedes Benz car, a Recreational Vehicle and trailer and a private jet. Fisher also used proceeds of the scheme to purchase homes and condos in the United States and on the Caribbean Island of Bonaire, which the jury found to be forfeitable.

In total, the defendants sold over $1.3 billion in fraudulent tax deductions to wealthy taxpayers through this scheme.

In addition to the terms of imprisonment, U.S. District Chief Judge Timothy C. Batten for the Northern District of Georgia ordered both Fisher and Sinnott to serve three years of supervised release. He also ordered Fisher to pay approximately $457,855,755 in restitution to the United States and Sinnott to pay approximately $443,760,035 in restitution to the United States.

Victor Smith and William Tomasello

According to court documents and statements made in court, Smith served as a CPA and founding partner of an Atlanta-based accounting firm. Beginning at least in 2014 and through at least 2019, Smith promoted and sold tax deductions to his wealthy clients in the forms of units in illegal syndicated conservation easement tax shelters organized and created by co-defendants Fisher, Sinnott and Joy. For his part, beginning at least in 2015 and through at least 2019, Tomasello also promoted and sold units in the Jack Fisher syndicated conservation easement tax shelters to his wealthy clients at another firm.  

Tomasello earned approximately $525,072 in commissions from Fisher and Sinnott for his role in promoting and selling the illegal tax shelters to clients, and his accounting firm received approximately $2,430,301 in commissions. Smith earned approximately $491,400 in commissions from Fisher and Sinnott for his role in promoting and selling the illegal tax shelters to clients.

Smith and Tomasello each face a maximum sentence of five years in prison. They also face a period of supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

To date, in addition to the convictions of Fisher and Sinnott and today’s guilty pleas of Smith and Tomasello, six additional defendants have pleaded guilty to criminal conduct related to Fisher and Sinnott’s syndicated conservation easement tax shelters, including appraiser Walter Douglas “Terry” Roberts, CPAs Stein and Corey Agee, CPA Ralph Anderson, CPA James Benkoil and CPA and Attorney Randall Lenz.

Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan for the Northern District of Georgia and Chief Jim Lee of IRS Criminal Investigation made the announcement. They thanked U.S. Attorney Dena J. King for the Western District of North Carolina for her office’s assistance.

IRS Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigated the case.

Trial Attorneys Richard M. Rolwing, Parker Tobin, Jessica Kraft, Grace Albinson and Nicholas J. Schilling Jr. of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Huber, Deputy Chief of the Complex Frauds Section for the Northern District of Georgia, are prosecuting the case.

Updated January 9, 2024
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