State has begun audit of Amistad's two years run by Ocean Classroom

The state Office of Policy and Management says it has begun an audit of Amistad America’s finances for 2013 and 2014.

OPM spokesman Gian-Carl Casa said Friday that the auditing firm hired by the state has gone to Maine to get the financial records of Ocean Classroom Foundation, the financially troubled organization that Amistad America hired to operate the schooner Amistad for the last two years. Ocean Classroom is slated to close at the end of the summer.

Casa said OPM would have a better idea of when the latest audits will be complete after the firm has looked at the Ocean Classroom records.

It now appears that OPM is addressing all the audit requests from state legislators who are demanding answers about how Amistad America spent $8 million in state funding and what its relationship with Ocean Classroom is.

On Thursday, state Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, sent a letter to OPM asking why it did not conduct a more complete audit of Amistad America, including the years 2013 and 2014. He also asked about Amistad America’s salaries, grants, fundraising and income, as well as its financial relationship with Ocean Classroom Foundation of Maine; why Amistad America continued to receive funding while receiving four years of extensions to submit its annual audit statement to the state; and why OPM did not impose sanctions, such as suspending funding until the audit statements were complete.

Casa said Thursday that Attorney General George Jepsen had indicated he is already looking into the issues raised by Fasano.

Last Friday, a long-delayed state audit of Amistad America for the years 2009 to 2012 showed the organization defaulting on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, lacking enough cash to operate for a month and having “material weaknesses” in its record-keeping that could have exposed it to mishandling of funds. The audit did not identify any apparent criminal activity.

Also last Friday, 25 lawmakers, including state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, signed a letter to Jepsen asking him to investigate the relationship between Amistad America and Ocean Classroom, which announced last month that it would close after 20 years because two of its three ships are in need of expensive repairs.

Since November 2012, Amistad America has paid Ocean Classroom $5,000 per month to manage and maintain the Amistad. That contract will expire Aug. 31. Ocean Classroom Executive Director Greg Belanger previously headed Amistad America and organized the relationship between the two organizations.

Urban, who has led the effort to determine how Amistad America spent $8 million in state finding while losing its nonprofit status for failing to file tax returns, has questioned why the state did not audit the financially troubled organization during the period of 2006 to 2009. But Casa said Thursday that those audits had already been done.

The state announced just last month that it had ceased payments to Amistad America, even though The Day had since May 2013 been reporting on the organization’s financial troubles. Other stories dating back to 2010 raised questions about the organization’s finances.

j.wojtas@theday.com

Twitter: @joewojtas

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