New Jersey CPA Pleads Guilty to Tax Fraud Scheme Involving Fraudulent Syndicated Conservation Easements


NJ CPA pleads guilty to a tax fraud scheme involving fraudulent syndicated conservation easements, facing prison and penalties.

A certified public accountant (CPA) from Avon-by-the-Sea, New Jersey, James H. Benkoil, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States by promoting fraudulent tax shelters to high-income clients. The announcement came from Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Benkoil promoted fraudulent syndicated conservation easements between 2009 and 2020. In these schemes, several investors form a partnership or company to purchase or invest in land, then donate the property for a charitable deduction. The scheme facilitated false claims of inflated charitable contribution tax deductions in connection with the “donation” of the conservation easement over land. As a result, Benkoil’s high-income clients were able to buy deductions to illegally shelter their income from taxation.

Benkoil and others involved in the scheme obtained falsely inflated land appraisals to achieve the desired amount of tax deductions. He admitted that his conduct led to a tax loss to the IRS of nearly $2.5 million and has agreed to pay full restitution.

The maximum penalty Benkoil faces is five years in prison, along with a period of supervised release, restitution, and monetary penalties. A federal district court judge will determine the sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

IRS-Criminal Investigation is handling the case, with Trial Attorneys Christopher Magnani and Richard Rolwing of the Justice Department’s Tax Division prosecuting it.

Small business owners should be aware of the risks associated with engaging in fraudulent tax schemes and ensure they work with reputable accountants and financial advisors to avoid falling prey to such scams. As this case demonstrates, those involved in fraudulent activities not only face legal consequences but also significant financial penalties and damage to their reputation.

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