Former Fugee and guitarist Wyclef Jean might be the most famous living Haitian. So when an earthquake ravaged Port Au Prince recently, killing thousands of people, many eyes turned to the singer. But some of those looking at Jean's charity organization, Yele Haiti, did so with a critical glance.
The Smoking Gun reports that the organization has been lax in filing its records with the Internal Revenue Service. It also alleges that some of the charity's funds have been channeled to businesses that Jean controls: As seen on the following pages from the foundation's 2006 tax return, the group paid $31,200 in rent to Platinum Sound, a Manhattan recording studio owned by Jean and Jerry Duplessis, who, like Jean, is a foundation board member. A $31,200 rent payment was also made in 2007 to Platinum Sound ... The recording studio also was paid $100,000 in 2006 for the "musical performance services of Wyclef Jean at a benefit concert." The return, of course, does not address why Jean needed to be paid to perform at his own charity's fundraiser. But the largest 2006 payout--a whopping $250,000--went to Telemax, S.A., a for-profit Haiti company in which Jean and Duplessis were said to "own a controlling interest."
The Better Business Bureau, based in Arlington, Virginia, is also looking into Yele Haiti: In 2007, the foundation's spending exceeded its revenues by $411,000. It brought in just $79,000 that year. "It's questionable. There's no way to get around that," said Art Taylor, president and chief executive of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance.
In the above video, the singer denounces the reports and explains that charities have operating expenses, like other organizations. He doesn't deny any specific aspects of The Smoking Gun's report, though he does address why Yele Haiti didn't file tax returns for a few years. Let's hope a more detailed explanation is forthcoming and Wyclef is not in real big trouble. In the meantime, people still need help.