Appraiser in billion-dollar conservation easement fraud scheme pleads guilty


Date: May 12, 2023


A North Carolina land appraiser pleaded guilty today to conspiring to defraud the United States as part of a syndicated conservation easement tax shelter scheme – involving inflated charitable contribution deductions based on a fraudulent appraisal value of a conservation easement on land – that claimed more than $1.3 billion in fraudulent tax deductions.

According to court documents and statements made in court, from 2008 to 2019, Walter "Terry" Douglas Roberts II of Shelby, North Carolina, conspired with others to defraud the United States by fraudulently inflating the value of the conservation easements upon which the tax deductions were based.

Roberts became a licensed appraiser in 2007 and began providing appraisals of conservation easements that same year. From 2008 through 2019, as part of the scheme, Roberts fraudulently inflated the values of at least 18 conservation easements by, among other things, not following normal appraisal methods, making false statements, and either personally manipulating or relying on knowingly manipulated data, in order to reach a targeted appraisal value – communicated to him by coconspirators – that would result in the desired tax deduction amount.

Roberts inflated some of his appraisals by at least 70%. The 18 conservation easements Roberts fraudulently appraised claimed approximately $466,961,000 in tax deductions, resulting in a tax loss to the IRS exceeding $129,000,000.

Roberts is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 14 and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, as well as 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.

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 James C. Lee made the announcement.

IRS-CI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service are investigating the case.

Trial Attorneys Richard M. Rolwing, Grace Albinson, Parker Tobin, Jessica Kraft, 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. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brittney Campbell for the District of Idaho, formerly of the Tax Division, also previously worked on this case.