On a weekend when the eyes of the world were on Haiti, and many A-list celebrities — many of them seen at Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony in Los Angeles — felt the need to drum up support for the earthquake-ravaged country, at least one of those celebs was defending the way his charity organization has been handling its funds.
According to the Washington Post, Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti Foundation, a grassroots movement founded by the former Fugees frontman devoted to developing education, health and community development in the impoverished Caribbean country, has raised more than one $1.5 million since the earthquake hit on Tuesday. But concerns, as first reported on The Smoking Gun Website, over how charity organizations funds have been allocated became so acute that the Grammy-winning performer felt the need to defend himself Saturday night on his group’s blog, which was posted on YouTube. “I’m Haitian, this is where I come from,” said Jean in the video.
In an accompanying statement, Jean declared that his “commitment to Haiti is a unique and everlasting bond,” adding that “it is impossible for me to even comprehend the recent attacks on my character and the integrity of my foundation, Yele Haiti.”
According to Smoking Gun, Internal Revenue Service records reveal questionable accounting practices by the group, which was incorporated 12 years ago, and that Yele Haiti first filed tax returns in 2009. That documentation purportedly covered the calendar years 2005 through 2007.
Red flags were raised for the year 2006, when the foundation’s tax return showed that of the $1 million raised by the group, it paid $31,000 in rent to Platinum Sound, a Manhattan recording studio owned by Yele board members Jean and Jerry Duplessis. The return also revealed a 2006 payment of $100,000 for “the musical performance services of Wyclef Jean at a benefit concert,” raising questions by Smoking Gun as to “why Jean needed to be paid to perform at his own charity’s fundraiser.”
The largest payout, according to the Website, was the $250,000 that went to Telemax, S.A., a for-profit company in Haiti in which Jean and Duplessis reportedly own a controlling interest. In all cases, the foundation indicated that these services were substantially below market value.
The singer — who is scheduled to join actor George Clooney and CNN’s Anderson Cooper in hosting Friday’s “Hope for Haiti” telethon, which will benefit such the Red Cross, Unicef and Yele Haiti, among other relief organizations — said in the YouTune post that “you can’t put a show together without production.”
Yele Haiti’s president, High Locke, told the Washington Post that the charity hopes to reduce its administrative spending, and at a New York press conference on Monday, a tearful Jean told reporters that “as a young NGO (non-governmental organization) coming up, have we made mistakes before? Yes. Did I ever use Yele money for personal benefits? Absolutely not.”