North Carolina appraiser sentenced in $1.3B scheme

A North Carolina appraiser was sentenced to prison this week, but he could have been praising the judge for a sentence significantly more lenient than required.

U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten for the Northern District of Georgia sentenced Flat Rock’s Walter Roberts II to 12 months in prison, the Department of Justice announced. Robert was sentenced for his role in a tax shelter scheme linked to a real estate conservation easement.

In May, Roberts pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States in the $1.3 billion scheme. The sentencing guidelines called for a maximum of five years in prison, so he could have faced a much longer time in the slammer.

From 2008 to 2019, Roberts conspired with others to fraudulently inflate the value of conservation easements, which he was in charge of appraising, according to court documents. Owners with conservation easements — specified areas of land earmarked for environmental conservation — can claim an income tax reduction.

Roberts fraudulently inflated the value of at least 18 easements, violating industry standards and making false statements while manipulating data on behalf of co-conspirators to achieve specific tax deductions.

The North Carolina man inflated the value of some of his appraisals by as much as 600 percent. All told, the easements led to claims of nearly $467 million in tax deductions and the IRS faced a tax loss of more than $129 million, which Roberts has been ordered to pay in restitution.

Roberts will also be under supervised release for three years and is required to perform 120 hours of community service.

Two co-conspirators, Jack Fisher and James Sinnott, were convicted during a trial where Roberts testified. They have not been sentenced for their roles in the scheme yet. Five other defendants have pleaded guilty to conduct linked to the syndicated conservation easement tax shelters.

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