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State announces formal dissolution of Amistad America, end of receivership

State officials announced Monday that, as expected, Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina has issued orders that formally dissolves Amistad America and ends state receivership of the schooner Amistad.

The state was granted receivership of the financially troubled ship in August of 2014 and, since then, receiver Katharine Sachs and an advisory committee she formed has worked to chart a new course for the ship.

The ship has now been transferred to a new nonprofit group, Discovering Amistad, that will oversee and operate the ship with a “Connecticut-based, education-centric mission” according to a news release from the state Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes and Attorney General George Jepsen.

Robaina issued the orders terminating the receivership and dissolving Amistad America on Nov. 19.

“I am glad the Amistad will get a new start,” Barnes said. “It is an important educational tool about a sad chapter of our nation’s history and a symbol of Connecticut’s commitment to liberty for all. I appreciate that the Attorney General and state agencies worked so well together to get this done.”

Jepsen added the goal of the receivership was to “stabilize the situation surrounding Amistad and chart a path forward for its responsible ownership and governance.”

“The Amistad is worth saving, not just because the state of Connecticut has made significant investments over the years; the ship is a vital historical and cultural asset, with a powerful, moving and relevant story to tell. To that end, the receivership process has largely been a success. The prior organization, beset by dysfunction, is dissolved and its debts resolved. Discovering Amistad – a new organization better qualified to manage the Amistad – has formed in its place. To be sure, there remain challenges to the Amistad’s future success, which will require continued vigilance. I applaud and thank the new board members for stepping up to accept those challenges.”

Both men praised Sachs for her “exemplary work.”

In September, the state Bond Commission approved a proposal to award a $620,000 grant to Discovering Amistad. The funding allowed the organization to purchase the ship for $315,000 and make repairs to allow it to retain its Coast Guard certification. Discovering Amistad also is slated to receive $342,000 in operating funds in each of the next two years from the state budget.

After State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, began questioning how Amistad America spent $9 million in state funding and criticized its failure to pay back $2.2 million in debts it owed to a long list of businesses, individuals and organizations, the state audited the organization and then took control of the ship in August 2014.

Those creditors will not receive their money, as Robaina signed an order this fall that directed Sachs to distribute the $315,000 from the ship’s sale to the state Department of Economic and Community Development to reimburse the agency for funding the maintenance and upkeep of the ship during the court-ordered receivership.

DECD was also the agency that dispersed millions in state funds to Amistad America but failed to question its lack of detailed reporting about how the money was being spent.

The schooner is a replica of the ship of the same name that was commandeered by its African captives off the coast of Cuba in 1839. Captured off Montauk, N.Y., the ship was brought to New London and the captives were taken to New Haven, where they were held for trial and eventually set free.

j.wojtas@theday.com

Twitter: @joewojtas

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