News Team Busts Private Prison Group In ‘Rent-A-Cow’ Scheme

Sven Hoppe/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

A local news team in Florida has exposed the for-profit prison giant Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) as a lousy cow renter. That’s right, a cow renter.

WPLG Local 10 on Tuesday reported how CCA was receiving up to $50,000 a year in tax breaks for claiming to have a few cows on its property in Southwest Ranches, Fla.

For $10 a year, CCA had a contract with a local “land seller” to provide cows on a property, allowing the company to claim agricultural tax exemptions. The practice is known as “rent-a-cow.”

In 2012, The Atlantic called rent-a-cow schemes in Florida “America’s dumbest tax loophole.” According to The Atlantic, the Florida statute behind rent-a-cow schemes, known as the greenbelt law, costs the state millions of dollars a year in taxes and often benefits wealthy developers.

But in response to Local 10’s investigation, The Broward Property Appraiser’s Office stripped CCA of the exemption. Broward Property Appraiser Lori Parrish said the company could not provide evidence that cows were ever actually on the property.

“The exemption was removed, there’s been no protest,” Parrish told Local 10.

Along with the CCA decision, the property appraiser’s office decided to audit 10 percent of county properties that claimed the agricultural exemptions. More than 125 other properties had their exemptions removed — including property owned by former Miami Marlins player Charles Johnson and Miami Dolphins player Zach Thomas.

“Lots of properties have lost classifications,” Parrish said. “We look at properties on an ongoing basis.”

It is not clear exactly what kind of property CCA owns in Southwest Ranches. The company has five Florida facilities listed on its website, none of which is located in the town.

CCA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TPM.