Ohio Federal Court Bars Appraiser of Historic-Preservation Easements
Real Estate Appraiser Allegedly Inflated Easement Values to Help Customers Claim Hundreds of Millions of Dollars in Improper Tax Deductions
A federal court in Cleveland has barred MAI-designated real estate appraiser Michael Ehrmann and his firm, Jefferson & Lee Appraisals Inc., from preparing property appraisals for federal tax purposes, the Justice Department announced today. Judge Dan Aaron Polster of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio signed the civil injunction order against Ehrmann and Jefferson & Lee Appraisals. The defendants consented to the injunction without admitting the allegations against them.
Federal law allows a taxpayer in certain limited circumstances to claim a charitable deduction for the value of a conservation easement donated to a qualified organization. The easement’s value must be determined by a qualified appraiser. According to the government complaint, Ehrmann’s appraisals repeatedly overstated the value of conservation easements placed on historic properties, including the Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit and the Powerhouse Building in the Flats District of Cleveland.
In its complaint, the government contends that Ehrmann distorted data and provided misinformation or unsupported personal opinions to get artificially high values for conservation-easement donations. The complaint also alleges that “Ehrmann knows that his clients will use the inflated values provided in his appraisals to claim overstated charitable contribution deductions.” According to the government complaint, the amount of improper tax deductions attributable to Ehrmann’s flawed appraisals could reach hundreds of millions of dollars.
In 2011, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department obtained an injunction against the Trust for Architectural Easements, formerly known as the National Architectural Trust, barring it from engaging in abusive practices relating to the valuation and donation process for historic-conservation easements. The Internal Revenue Service has listed abuse of charitable deductions as one of its “Dirty Dozen” tax scams . The Justice Department has obtained injunctions against hundreds of tax-return preparers and tax-fraud promoters in the past decade. Information about these cases is available on the Justice Department website .