This is the second installment of a three-part investigative report from US~Observer. For part one, read Colorado’s ‘Legalized’ Theft. For more background, read Conservation Easements: The Rape And Pillage of Landowners.
Ironically, when Governor John Hickenlooper’s 2002 conservation easements (CEs) underwent an Internal Revenue Service review, it resulted in Hickenlooper paying the IRS $52,000 in a settlement agreement in 2010 (in the midst of his gubernatorial campaign). Nowhere does it appear that the Colorado Department of Revenue (CDOR) questioned the IRS’s determination or sought repayment of Hickenlooper’s State tax credits, reportedly in the range of six figures.
In an effort to reach an equitable resolution of the dilemma for the farmers and ranchers, as well as the CDOR, State Representative Wesley McKinley offered a very reasonable bill in 2010. HB1208 simply stated the CDOR must produce prima facie evidence of fraud within one year, else the conservation easements be accepted. It was defeated by intense lobbying from the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, an alleged front for the brokers and water lobby (special interests).
Instead, HB-1300 was enacted in 2011, after being drafted by the CDOR and the Attorney General’s Office, resulting in 674 Colorado State District Court cases. Since then, rather than allow the land owners and their appraisers an opportunity to put their appraisals on trial, it turned into a stimulus package for Denver attorneys and became too costly for the landowners to actually get before court judges.
County commissioners from the affected counties (Alamosa, Baca, Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers and Rio Grande) presented resolutions to Hickenlooper requesting a moratorium on new CEs, until the train wreck was resolved, particularly considering the State budget could not afford ongoing $30 million per year allocations to “discretionary CEs,” while schools were being closed. Hickenlooper arrogantly ignored the commissioners’ pleas, as he continued to blatantly violate his oath of office.
The State’s Extortion And Despotism… And More Problems
Below is an excerpt of a letter from State Attorney General John Suthers’ office, sent to landowners throughout the State upon their filing for their respective court cases:
In determining whether the partial or complete waiver of interest and penalties is appropriate, Revenue will consider both the facts of the underlying CE transaction and the taxpayer’s good faith efforts to settle. This includes a consideration of the taxpayer’s specific conduct with respect to the transaction, level of due diligence, knowledge and level of involvement with structuring the donation and credit claim, and cooperation in providing information requested by Revenue.
The State is clearly using extortion/coercion against these landowners, and it should be emphasized that Hickenlooper was spared this treatment over his own CEs that he established in Bailey, Colo. Reportedly, the 2011 legislation was cleverly devised by CDOR Director Barbara Brohl and Suthers, and it offered two options:
- Court action: Spend a fortune in court on certain futile attempts to prevail in four trials mandated by HB1300 legislation: threshold hearing, validity hearing, value hearing and liability hearing.
- Settlement: Landowners soon realized the financial impossibility of trying to compete with the unlimited resources of the CDOR and attorney general’s office and the unbridled leverage of “extortion,” especially within the court system of Colorado. But even trying to “settle” with unreasonable agents of the CDOR and attorney general’s office has been agonizing for ranchers and farmers. The attorney general’s office has continued to maintain that if the land owner is willing to concede that his land has no value, the CDOR and attorney general’s office will accept the landowners’ repayment of 80 percent to 90 percent of the original tax credits and the multiple years of penalty and interest will be waived — that is, if the land owner demonstrated “good conduct.” This strong-arm-bullying tactic is analogous to persecuting blacks for disorderly conduct for daring to sit on the bus (rather than stand) during the civil rights era.
What does a person’s “conduct” or “level of due diligence” have to do with the validity or value of a CE? For those of you who aren’t familiar with legalized crime, the State is telling hapless landowners: “If you just accept the gross injustice without complaining, you’ll be spared a decade of interest and penalties.” The State’s extortion attempts quickly positions the landowner, who acted in complete good faith and strictly followed the law, to make a desperate financial decision to abandon pursuing justice on the core merits and principles.
Landowners now agonize between two bad options, either go broke attempting to pay outrageous attorney fees or go broke by extortion. A devastated landowner described it like this, “It’s like choosing whether you would like CDOR to amputate your feet or both legs.”
The State and its accomplices are violating these landowners on the presumption that the public-at-large will never hear their story. The US~Observer is giving these victimized farmers and ranchers a voice, so everyone will know exactly what kind of criminally minded people are currently running the State of Colorado.
None of the real culprits have owned up to any responsibility; instead, they have left the landowners to endure the entire burden of the mess they created.
The landowners of Colorado deserve justice, because their property does in fact have value, as those seeking to take it know very well.
What is needed is for the Colorado voters to help these landowners by expressing their outrage to Hickenlooper and State legislators, who could have put an immediate stop to this outrageous assault at any time. Call the Governor at 303-866-2471 and let him know that you won’t stand for the State of Colorado’s illegal, unethical and unConstitutional destruction of Colorado’s ranchers and farmers. In this writer’s highly qualified opinion, Hickenlooper is totally negligent and complicit in the abuses contained in this article and, therefore, he is guilty of taking part in this outrageous criminal conspiracy.
Further, Coloradoans who possess a conscience or any level of honesty and ethics need to make sure Hickenlooper and his cohorts are voted out of office in the upcoming election.
If the property owners aren’t vindicated, the next piece of property they come after might just be yours.
Anyone who has information on corruption or wrongdoing by any of the people named in this article is urged to contact Edward Snook at 541-474-7885 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. It doesn’t matter how old the information is. Be responsible and call.
Land Owners United (LOU) is an active organization (of landowners and tax credit buyers), which has tenaciously sought, and continues to seek, remedy for all who were adversely affected by the injustice of the Colorado government agencies, as described above. If you would like to join the cause to pursue justice publicly and in the Federal courts, please contact this exemplary group of individuals. Donations are being accepted at the following address:
LAND OWNERS UNITED
15465 County Lane One
Olney Springs, CO 81062
–Ron Lee and Lorne Dey