What Happened To $8 Million For Amistad? [Courant Editorial]

July 9, 2014

The audit of Amistad America, which has received $8 million from Connecticut, is way behind schedule; taxpayers deserve better
EDITORIAL, The Hartford Courant

The schooner Amistad, the replica of the ship that was the scene of a famed slave revolt in 1839, is temporarily back in Connecticut waters.

That’s an improvement over the situation last summer, when the tall ship’s whereabouts were difficult to ascertain, the website of its owners was inoperable, its corporation’s status as a nonprofit was suspended, its phones were unanswered, and some of its bills went unpaid. What a mess.

A year later, the ship is here, but answers to troubling financial questions are still out of port.

Connecticut taxpayers, who continue to shell out about $350,000 annually to Amistad America Inc., the organization that runs the ship, deserve better. Mostly, they ought to get a clear and complete accounting of how about $8 million in state funding has been spent.

Such a report is, indeed, in the works — and has been for the better part of a year. The Day of New London recently reported that seven months after an accounting was supposed to be completed, auditors are still sifting through the numbers. Apparently a key issue now is how Amistad America spent a $280,000 bank loan.

Connecticut played a central role in the trial of the original Amistad slaves, so it is appropriate for the replica to be partially funded by state taxpayers. But as has been asked for some time now: Where did the money go?

For years, Democratic state Rep. Diana Urban of Stonington has fought doggedly for Amistad transparency. In the last legislative session, she tried to tie an Amistad “report card” to the state budget; the measure died.

Now, Republican state Sen. Len Fasano of North Haven has joined the fray, calling for suspension of payments to Amistad America until all financial questions have been answered.

Good. This is a bipartisan issue; it needs firm prods from both sides of the aisle.

When the slaves who revolted on the original Amistad were arrested, it took about two years for courts to decide to free them. Let’s hope it takes less time than that for there to be some present-day Amistad accountability.