Thursday, August 10, 2017

RERI-ng Its Ugly Head - Part Two

Let’s continue our story of Stephen Ross, the billionaire owner of the Miami Dolphins and of his indirect contribution of an (unusual) partnership interest to the University of Michigan.

What made the partnership interest unusual was that it represented a future ownership interest in a partnership owning real estate. The real estate was quite valuable because of a sweet lease. When that ship came in, the future interest was going to be worth crazy money.

That ship was a “successor member interest” or “SMI.”

We talked about the first case, which went before the Tax Court in 2014 and involved legal motions. The case then proceeded, with a final decision in July, 2017.
COMMENT: Yes, it can take that long to get a complex case through Tax Court. Go after Apple, for example, and your kid will likely be finishing high school before that tax case is finally resolved.
The SMI was purchased for $2.95 million.

Then donated to the University of Michigan for approximately $33 million.
COMMENT: This is better than FaceBook stock.
After two years, the University of Michigan sold the SMI (to someone related to the person who started this whole story) for around $2 million.
OBSERVATION: Nah, FaceBook stock would have been better.
Now RERI was in Court and explaining how something that was and will be worth either $2 or $3 million is generating a tax deduction of $33 million.

And it has to do with the SMI being “part of” of something but not “all of” something.  SMI is the “future” part in “all of” a partnership owning valuable leased real estate in California.

The concept is that someone has to value the “all of” something. Once that is done, one can use IRS tables to value the “part of” something. Granted, there are hoops and hurdles to get into those tables, but that is little obstacle to a shrewd tax attorney.

Ross found a shrewd tax attorney.

Virtually all the heavy lifting is done when valuing the “all of” part. One then dumps that number into the IRS tables, selects a number of years and an interest rate and – voila! The entrĂ©e round, my fellow tax gastronomes, featuring a $33 million tasty secret ingredient.

The pressure is on the first number: the “all of.”

This will require a valuation.

There are experts who do these things, of course.

Their valuation report will go with your tax return.  No surprise. We should be thankful they do not also have to do a slide presentation at the IRS. 

And there will be a (yet another) tax form to highlight the donation. That is Form 8283, and – in general – you can anticipate seeing this form when you donate more than $5,000 in property.

There are questions to be answered on Form 8283. We have spoken about noncash donations in the past, and how this area has become a tax minefield. Certain things have to be done a certain way, and there is little room for inattention. Sometimes the results are cruel.

Form 8283 wants, for example:

·      A description of the property
·      If a partial interest, whether there is a restriction on the property
·      Date acquired
·      How acquired
·      Appraised fair market value
·      Cost

I suspect the Court was already a bit leery with a $3 million property generating a $33 million donation.

And the Court noticed something …

The Form 8283 left out the cost.

Yep, the $3 million.

Remember: there is little room for inattention with this form.

Question is: does the number mean anything in this instance?

Rest assured that RERI was bailing water like a madman, arguing that it “substantially complied” with the reporting requirements. It relied heavily on the Bond decision, where the Court stated that the reporting requirements were:
“… directory and not mandatory”
The counterpunch to Bond was Smith:
“ the standard for determining substantial compliance under which we ‘consider whether … provided sufficient information to permit … to evaluate the reported contributions, as intended by Congress.’”
To boil this down to normal-speak: could RERI’s omission have influenced a reasonable person (read: IRS) to question or not question the deduction. After all, the very purpose of Form 8283 was to provide the IRS enough information to sniff-out stuff like this.

Here is the Court:
“The significant disparity between the claimed fair market value and the price RERI paid to acquire the SMI just 17 months before it assigned the SMI to the University, had it been disclosed, would have alerted respondent to a potential overvaluation of the SMI”
Oh oh.
“Because RERI failed to provide sufficient information on its Form 8283 to permit respondent to evaluate its purported contribution, …we cannot excuse on substantial compliance grounds RERI’s omission from the form of its basis in the SMI.”
All that tax planning, all the meetings and paperwork and yada-yada was for naught, because someone did not fill-out the tax form correctly and completely.

I wonder if the malpractice lawsuit has already started.

The Court did not have to climb onto a high-wire and juggle dizzying code sections or tax doctrines to deny RERI’s donation deduction. It could just gaze upon that Form 8283 and point-out that it was incomplete, and that its incompleteness prejudiced the interests of the government. It was an easy way out.

And that is precisely what the Court did.

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