By DAVE COLLINS, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A Connecticut judge on Thursday appointed a receiver to take over the operations and finances of the group that runs the state’s official flagship, the Amistad schooner, after state Attorney General George Jepsen accused the organization of poor management and record keeping.
Hartford Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina approved Jepsen’s request to have New Haven lawyer Katharine Sacks take control of Hamden-based Amistad America Inc.
Jepsen filed court documents saying the organization has run up significant debt, lost its tax-exempt status and its conduct has been “destructive” to its educational and charitable missions.
The state has been giving Amistad America about $400,000 a year for operations and has invested more than $9 million in the group and the schooner in the past 15 years. Jepsen said there is no evidence that state funds were misappropriated, but poor financial management led to defaulted loans and liens on the schooner.
“The Amistad is an important piece of Connecticut’s history and cultural heritage,” Jepsen said in a statement. “We will seek to continue the receivership until the public can be assured that its money is being properly used and accounted for and that a plan exists for the organization to responsibly carry out its mission.”
Amistad America officials didn’t return a phone message seeking comment Thursday. They released a statement saying they support the receivership.
“We’ve been working closely with the state through this entire rebuilding process and we trust they have the best intentions of our organization in mind,” Hanifa Washington, executive director of Amistad America, said in the statement. “Having a direct link between the organization and the state to approve funding and ultimately address the concerns of taxpayers is exactly what we need.”
The 129-foot Baltimore clipper, which is based in New Haven, is a symbol of the fight against slavery. It is a replica of a ship that was taken over by African captives being brought to Cuba in 1839. They landed on Long Island but were captured and jailed in New Haven. With help from abolitionists, they won their freedom in a landmark legal case that started in Connecticut and ended in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state’s investment included $2.5 million for construction of the vessel in 1999 and 2000. Jepsen said recent audits account for the state funds invested in the ship over the years.
Amistad America came under fire last year from state Rep. Diana Urban, a North Stonington Democrat, who wanted to know why the state was still supporting the organization after it failed to file federal tax returns for three years and lost its tax-exempt status.
Amistad America officials told The Associated Press last year that the organization fell into hard financial times after several years of success as funding sources dried up, but they managed to bring it back from the brink of financial ruin.
The schooner is set to be in New London on Saturday through Monday for a commemoration of the 175th anniversary of the uprising aboard the original Amistad.
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