At last we were finished with all the legal wrangling. We could be proud of ourselves and our partners for hanging in there and garnering settlements against all odds. Stan and I spent the rest of 2013 working on spreadsheets and methods for helping the partners who owed the most money to get out of the partnership by redistributing their shares among partners who would buy them. We went from 24 partners to 10 partners by the end of the year, and we personally owed so much money that our percentage in the remaining partnership dropped by about half. But, thanks be to God, we were finally finished.
We gradually learned that landowners who followed us in negotiations with the state did not fare as well as we did. This broke our hearts. We hoped that as the state and/or the courts continued to hear the stories of these folks that they would ease up. We hoped our unrelenting bulldog methods would make the state back off. I’m very sorry to report that doesn’t seem to be the case, and I can only say that I don’t have anything good to say about the people who initiated this horror on the citizens of Colorado, those who perpetuated it, or those who lacked the courage to fix it.
But, as more people related their stories, we learned that others shared our suspicions about a “good old boys’ network” instigating this mess. In an article entitled “Conservation Easements: Colorado’s ‘Legalized’ Theft,’” The US Observer reported “To coincide with their destructive strategy, in 2003, the tax credit brokers reportedly developed a union with well-known appraiser, Mark Weston, who in turn enlisted appraisers, Peter Sartucci, Tim Walter, and Kevin McCarty, for the alleged, explicit purpose to invalidate appraisals and to allegedly slander appraisers John Stroh and Bill Millenski (among other appraisers outside of their group). In fact, a public records request revealed an email, dated July 29, 2004, from Janish Wishman, attorney for Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), where Tim Walter responded, ‘I doubt we can overcome the Caldwell and Brown and Stroh water value report but will try.’” Remember, Tim Walter and Peter Sartucci were the appraisers that the IRS “hired” to review our land.
An article in The Journal-Advocate by Jeff Rice on 1/19/2016 describes how the Gentzes pursued their own legal action against Mark Weston. “Gentzes launch second legal acion.”
“Last week the Gentzes filed a lawsuit in the 13th Judicial District Court against Mark Weston, a land appraiser and one-time member of the state's Conservation Easement Oversight Commission. The Gentzes claim that Weston essentially double-crossed them, charging them for advice on how to file for conservation easements on some of their land at the northwest edge of Sterling, and later voting to reject the appraisals and retroactively deny the tax credits they'd claimed for those easements.
The Gentzes are already fighting with the Colorado Department of Revenue over more than $700,000 in denied tax credits, penalties, and interest the state says the couple owes. The state rejected an appraisal of the Gentzes' land after the couple had claimed tax credits in 2006 and 2007 for enrolling some of their land in Colorado's Conservation Easement program. Now the Gentzes are also saying Weston is partly responsible for that.”
Stan continue to assist Land Owner’s United, which formed Landowner’s United Advocacy Foundation as the group that sued the state in March of 2016, as described in Blog #2, and the case is still pending in federal court. (See Colorado Landowners Sue State Over Conservation Easement Program, in the Denver Post, 3/28/2016.) Please, dear reader, keep these landowners in your prayers as this case creeps forward at glacial speed.
If you want to look up the case, it is Case 1:16-cv-00603 in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. It’s an ambitious case and you will see that the LUAF, as plaintiff, names the following as defendants:
- State of Colorado;
- Barbara Brohl, individually and in her official capacity as Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Revenue;
- Marcia Waters, individually and in her official capacity as the Director of the Colorado Department of Real Estate;
- Mark Weston, individually and in his official capacity as Commissioner (appraiser) of the Colorado Conservation Easement Oversight Commission;
- Colorado Department of Revenue;
- Division of Real Estate of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies;
- Board of Real Estate Appraisers;
- Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies; and the
- Colorado Conservation Easement Oversignt Commission of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.
Articles for Your Perusal
The press, for the most part, seems to have finally come around to understand that this wasn’t a “Rich get Richer” scheme as originally reported, rather illegal persecution, legalized theft, fraudulent fleecing, and a violation of our constitutional rights. A series of scathing articles have ensued, although some, like Migoya’s below, still get things wrong.
“Conservation Easements: Colorado’s Legalized Theft -- Governor Hickenlooper’s Administration Fraudulently Fleecing Landowners” by Lorne Dey & Ron Lee,
Investigative Reporters, The US Observer. (Mentioned above.)
“Easement program failure penalize taxpayers, landowners” by David Migoya, in The Denver Post, 12/19/2014. While Migoya rightly underscores the failures of the program, he incorrectly says, “Not every credit buyer had to pay. Some wealthy landowners and developers, like Mann’s group, covered the tab because tax credits are sold with a promise of indemnity. If something goes wrong, the seller agrees to pay up.” Of course, if you’ve been following this blog carefully, you’ll realize that we were not a wealthy group, and we did not “cover the tab” or “pay up.” We negotiated a settlement with the state in which we insisted that the state leave the tax credits of the transferees [tax credit buyers] intact, so it was stipulated in our settlement – we didn’t whip out our check books to cover it. Additionally, our settlement with the state was mostly paid by the malpractice proceeds, not by wealthy partners.
“Local Couple Joins Statewide Group in Tax Credit Fight.” “LAMAR — A Sterling couple is considering expanding their quest for justice in the Colorado Conservation Easement Program debacle. Alan and Julie Gentz met Saturday with members of the newly-formed Landowners United Advocacy Foundation to hear about a plan to sue Colorado in federal court to recover damages suffered from what they see as unfair prosecution for alleged misdeeds they never committed.” By Jeff Rice, Journal-Advocate, 11/9/2015.
“LUAF offers salvation for embattled landowners” an Op Ed by Jeff Rice, Journal-Advocate columnist, posted 11/9/2015. (The link to this article is no longer available. Download .pdf below.)
“Lawmakers lacked courage to do right.” By Jeff Rice, Journal Advocate, 3/28/2016. “The hypocrisy in the Colorado Statehouse reached epic proportions this session when lawmakers made it clear they want nothing to do with making whole the land owners who have been swindled and persecuted by the state in the conservation easement debacle.”
Rice doesn’t mince words in this article – of all the links I have provided in 36 blog posts, I think the comment above is the most quintessential “wrap up” of where we are right now, along with all the landowners in Colorado who have not yet received justice.
Sidenote: Scammer and Abusers
We sure got tired of hearing law-abiding landowners being called scammers, and accused of “abusing” the C.E. program. We kept asking someone – anyone – to actually point to anyone who had really scammed the system. Where are the names? Where are the convictions? Who are they? And there were no names, no convictions.
Unfortunately, one scam (and resulting conviction) did turn up, and I wouldn’t be a good reporter if I didn’t include this. To my knowledge, it’s the only actual case of fraud and abuse. Conservation-easement scammer gets 83 years in Colorado prison, by David Migoya, The Denver Post, 4/7/2016.
The End of the Story
So, thus ends my narrative, although I will continue to post about the progress of the LUAF case and anything else that comes up related to this bruised conservation easement program in Colorado. I don’t think it’s the end of the “story.” I believe in the “butterfly effect,” and that all these things that have been set in motion will continue to play out in individual stories – I hope we all get to hear more about what happens, and I hope it is good.
Please continue to check in, and by all means let me know if there is something you want to share or want me to investigate. If you have any questions about anything I’ve written, please let me know. And may you receive some kind of extra special blessing for hanging in there and reading every last word! ©Sharon Cairns Mann