IRS provides details about settlements in syndicated conservation easement transaction initiative

 

IR-2020-228, October 1, 2020

WASHINGTON — As the Internal Revenue Service continues combatting abusive syndicated conservation easements, the agency today released additional information to help address questions related to the ongoing settlement initiative.

Today the Internal Revenue Service Chief Counsel released Chief Counsel Notice 2021-001 PDF ("CC Notice"), which contains information regarding Chief Counsel's settlement initiative for certain pending Tax Court cases involving abusive syndicated conservation easement transactions described in IRS Notice 2017-10 PDF ("SCE transactions"). Prior coverage of the settlement initiative can be found in IRS news release IR-2020-196.

The IRS encourages investors to seek independent professional assistance with understanding the settlement terms and CC Notice, and to help them assess their hazards of litigation. Investors would be well advised to obtain counsel from competent, independent advisers not related to or recommended by the SCE transaction promoter.

As previously noted in IR-2020-196 the IRS has been very successful in litigating SCE transactions. While some promoters have attempted to distinguish the decided cases, claiming that their transactions are "different" and do not suffer the same flaws, the IRS has many grounds for disallowing the tax benefits claimed from these abusive transactions. The IRS will soon publish updates to the Conservation Easement Audit Technique Guide, which will set out new arguments that taxpayers can expect the IRS to make in cases involving SCE transactions.

The CC Notice reflects the IRS's continuing efforts to combat abusive SCE transactions. Notably, the newly established Office of Fraud Enforcement and the National Fraud Counsel are coordinating with examining agents and Chief Counsel attorneys to canvas cases for additional fraud considerations, which might include assertion of the 75% civil fraud penalty, or where applicable, referrals to Criminal Investigation.

The CC Notice also responds to a recurring question raised by several groups of partners that have approached IRS Chief Counsel seeking to resolve their cases. The Chief Counsel settlement initiative requires that the partnership that engaged in the SCE transaction and all its partners agree to settle on the offered terms. Those terms include a complete disallowance of the claimed charitable contribution deductions and penalties, although some partners may deduct their cost of investing in the partnership. The CC Notice explains that, in rare cases, Chief Counsel may permit less than all the partners to settle on these terms.

In most cases, however, the IRS will require settling groups of less than all partners to pay an additional 5% penalty, reflecting the lost efficiencies of the IRS having to proceed with the partnership case. The IRS and Chief Counsel encourage partners who want to settle to work with the other partners to reach a full resolution of the case. The CC Notice also indicates that the IRS will settle with individual partners (or groups of individual partners) only when they own a significant percentage of the partnership and they cooperate with Chief Counsel, which may include providing evidence that Chief Counsel might use to support its contentions in the litigation. The CC Notice provides that partners or groups of partners interested in resolving their cases on these terms have 30 days from the date of this Notice to elect to settle.

The CC Notice also explains that Chief Counsel may consider making the same offer to newly filed cases in Tax Court. Chief Counsel will consider a variety of factors in deciding whether to extend the offer, including whether the partnership fully cooperated with the IRS during the audit.

Finally, the CC Notice answers numerous procedural questions related to the settlement terms.