Published June 14. 2013 4:00AM Updated June 14. 2013 1:27PM
State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said Thursday that the state should not continue to fund Amistad America until it gets answers about how the money is being spent and how the struggling organization plans to become financially stable.
"I'm loath to put more money into it until we get some answers. I want to know who's on the board, who's running it and what their business plan is," said Maynard, whose district includes Mystic Seaport, where the schooner Amistad was built.
The Day recently reported that the ship, which was built with state funds to tell the story of captive Africans who escaped slavery and were declared free by the U.S. Supreme Court, is being used in Maine to teach sailing and that its parent organization has lost its tax-exempt status.
Maynard commended state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, for pressing the state Department of Economic and Community Development to detail how Amistad America has spent the $8 million in state taxpayer money that it has received for the construction, maintenance, programming and operation of the vessel.
"I have a problem with them continuing to receive taxpayer money and we still don't know where the money went," he said.
Maynard said he did not know until recently that the ship is now in Maine, where Amistad America is leasing it to a sail training organization. The schooner originally sailed to ports around the country to tell the story of the Amistad captives, who were freed in 1841. Much of the story took place in New London and New Haven.
"It doesn't make any sense to me for it to be in Maine and receiving state money from Connecticut," he said.
Attorney General George Jepsen's office has said that it may have a response from Amistad America today to produce its application for reinstatement of its nonprofit status and audited financial reports. Jepsen had set the deadline for Monday but then extended the deadline to the end of the week.
The organization lost its tax-exempt status after failing to file tax returns for three years. It no longer is based in New Haven, it has no office or website and its board is inactive. State Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, has not responded to a request for comment about Amistad America.
Meanwhile, The Day on Thursday filed a Freedom of Information request with DECD seeking an itemized list of all state funding and bonding given to Amistad America from 1994 to the present. In addition, The Day is asking for all correspondence including any letters, emails and attached documents between Amistad America and DECD over the past six years.
DECD gave the ship $1.9 million over the past four years, plans to make payments totaling $359,000 a year to Amistad America over the next two years and made payments this year despite questions from the Internal Revenue Service.
Some, including Urban, have suggested that it would make sense for the Amistad to become part of the collection of Mystic Seaport, where it could tell its story and be properly cared for.
Maynard, though, has reservations about that idea.
"I wouldn't want to speak for the Seaport, but its mission is with historic vessels, which this is not. I'm also not sure they would be particularly excited about taking on another mouth to feed when they have their own ambitious program such as completing the restoration of the Charles W. Morgan," he said.
The Seaport declined to comment this week about whether it would have any interest in the ship but did say no discussions have taken place with Amistad America.
Maynard suggested that New London, which has Amistad Pier, named for the ship, might be a good location, as the Amistad captives were first brought ashore behind the Custom House on Water Street and spent their initial days in the city as word spread of their story.
He said the idea also makes sense because of events such as Sailfest and the planned creation of the U.S. Coast Guard Museum along the waterfront.