Amistad America ship

August 21, 2014; Hartford Courant

Over the past few months, NPQ has reported on the fact that Amistad America, which displays the Amistad replica slave ship, was in trouble, with a combination of diminishing assets, frustrated creditors, extraordinarily late audits, and legislators who had finally had enough. Eventually, the state, which has paid much of the ship’s expenses, suspended its grant until audits could be delivered. Four years’ worth were delivered a few weeks ago, but they evidently did not alleviate fears. As a result, yesterday the state of Connecticut appointed an independent receiver, a move that will allow the ship to continue to operate while a turnaround occurs.

Attorney General George Jepsen sought the court order, which was approved by Superior Court Judge Antonio C. Robaina. The order strips Amistad America’s current leaders of any authority over the nonprofit. New Haven attorney Katharine B. Sacks, who has acted as a receiver in other such cases, was appointed; essentially, she will act as Amistad’s chief executive officer, but responsible to the court rather than the board. The board of the troubled group has, to all appearances, welcomed the action.

“Today’s action puts in place a professional and experienced receiver who will ensure that, over the coming months, the organization’s finances are handled correctly and that existing obligations are addressed,” observed the attorney general. “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 into the future.”

The action puts responsibility for Amistad directly in state hands where it belongs, since it was state officials who, year after year, extended the audit deadline for the group even while it paid out its grants.

“There remain substantial challenges ahead for the Amistad—not least of which are designing an appropriate governing structure for the organization and identifying consistent and adequate sources for its operational funding,” Jepsen said. “Success is not guaranteed, but today’s action is a necessary first step and one that can give the state the confidence needed to continue expending funds allocated for the Ship’s operations.”—Ruth McCambridge