State takes control of financially troubled Amistad America


NEW HAVEN — Amistad America Inc., the financially distressed non-profit that owns and operates the Freedom Schooner Amistad, has been placed into receivership.

The 79-foot sailing ship Amistad, which is Connecticut’s official flagship, makes its home port at Long Wharf in New Haven. The vessel is a replica of its 19th-century namesake, made famous for the mutiny of its African captives en route to America to be sold into slavery. The event became the subject of a renowned legal battle in Connecticut in 1839-40 that became the subject of a 1997 Steven Spielberg film.

Launched in 2000, the schooner had served as a floating classroom in New Haven Harbor, Long Island Sound and beyond, and the non-profit that operates it has been the beneficiary of millions of dollars in state aid.

Under a court order sought by state Attorney General George Jepson, an independent receiver was appointed August 21 to take control of Amistad America’s precarious finances. The order strips Amistad America’s leadership of control over the non-profit and places it in the hands of New Haven attorney Katharine B. Sacks.

According to financial audits released last month, Amistad America’s net assets declined from more than $1 million in 2008 (the year the most recent audit of the group had been performed) to negative assets three years later. The state has since frozen all grants to the non-profit.

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,” said Jepson in a statement. “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.”