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A recent expose by Day news columnist David Collins raises numerous disconcerting questions about the state's relationship with the organization responsible for managing the Amistad. It also raises the larger issue of how well the state monitors the taxpayer dough it doles out. A state investigation is called for.
To encapsulate, Mr. Collins questioned why the web page for the ship - a reproduction of the craft that was the location of an historic slave rebellion that reached the Supreme Court - was not operating. The ship and its non-profit organization, Amistad America, are heavily subsidized by the state to help carry out their missions of education and good will.
What he discovered is alarming. Amistad America has lost its Internal Revenue Service nonprofit status after failing to file tax returns for three straight years. It last filed a return in 2008-2009. Unless its tax status changes, donations made to the organization aren't deductible. It is questionable when Amistad America last sought donations.
Yet the state has kept subsidizing the operation, $359,777 paid to Amistad America in fiscal year 2012, about $285,000 so far this year. During much of 2012 the ship sat moored at Mystic Seaport. As of last week it was docked in Charleston, S.C. Its operation has been turned over to a sail training organization based in Maine, Open Classroom.
As Mr. Collins observed in his column, there "seems to be … general disarray in the Amistad America organization." No one seems to be in charge, its mission is fuzzy at best, and who is monitoring the spending of its state aid unclear.
When questioned by Mr. Collins, officials at the state Department of Economic and Community Development seemed clueless about the troubles confronting the organization. When the state hands out money, is there no follow-up to assure that the receiving group spends the money appropriately; no checking to assure the organization remains viable?
And since the DECD is responsible for handing out a lot of state money to drive economic development, the issues of accountability go well beyond the questions surrounding the Amistad.
This should get the attention of the Malloy administration, Attorney General George Jepsen and Comptroller Kevin Lembo. Until Mr. Collins started asking questions it appeared the DECD was ready to issue another $75,000 check to the Amistad group.
Something is wrong and answers are needed.