Atlanta, GA

Atlanta accountant charged with fraud, false tax returns

Amy Cheribelle
Hédi Benyounes/Unsplash

ATLANTA — A federal grand jury in Atlanta has charged an Atlanta certified public accountant with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Herbert E. Lewis was charged with 24 counts of wire fraud, 32 counts of aiding or assisting in the preparation of false federal tax returns, and five counts of filing false federal tax returns in connection with a wide-ranging, abusive tax shelter scheme on Wednesday, June 9.

Between 2014 and 2019, Lewis and his co-conspirator advertised, promoted, and sold false tax shelter agreements in the form of syndicated conservation easement (SCE) donations. High-income taxpayers used the SCE tax shelters to purchase membership interests in purported real estate investment funds.

The indictment claimed that Lewis utilized the funds to produce significant false tax deductions for its members based on the donated value of the conservation easements rather than for any real business purpose.

Lewis was reported to authorize clients to purchase units in a specific SCE shelter after the end of the year. He then told clients to backdate checks and subscription agreements to promote the scam. Lewis then produced tax forms for these same clients claiming the conservation easement donations' non-cash charitable deductions.

He allegedly passed on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tax deductions to the SCE shelters and client taxpayers due to the conservation easement donations. Lewis was said to have collected over $1 million in commissions for selling the SCE shelters.

Lewis faces a sentence of 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud, five years for conspiring to defraud the US, three years for filing a false tax return, and another three years for aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false tax return. He also faces a period of supervised release, monetary penalties, and restitution.

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