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Witches' Brew: Yele Haiti Under Fire

Friday, January 15, 2010

Yele Haiti Under Fire

Well damn.  Leave it to The Smoking Gun (TSG) to uncover some Brewshyt about a rapper.  Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti organization has raised $2 million since the initial call for help after Haiti's devastating earthquake.  Now, TSG is giving the side eye to Yele Haiti's business dealings over the last few years, even posting the organization's tax returns.  In a 6-page post, TSG reports:
Internal Revenue Service records show the group has a lackluster history of accounting for its finances, and that the organization has paid the performer and his business partner at least $410,000 for rent, production services, and Jean's appearance at a benefit concert.
Though the Wyclef Jean Foundation, which does business as Yele Haiti Foundation, was incorporated 12 years ago--and has been active since that time--the group only first filed tax returns in August 2009. That month, the foundation provided the IRS with returns covering calendar years 2005, 2006, and 2007--the only periods for which it has publicly provided a glimpse at its financial affairs.
In 2006, Jean's charity reported contributions of $1 million, the bulk of which came from People magazine in exchange for the first photos of a pregnant Angelina Jolie (the actress reportedly directed that the publication's payment go to Jean's charity, not her personally). [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 rent, tax returns assure, "is priced below market value." The recording studio also was paid $100,000 in 2006 for the "musical performance services of Wyclef Jean at a benefit concert." That six-figure payout, the tax return noted, "was substantially less than market value." The return, of course, does not address why Jean needed to be paid to perform at his own charity's fundraiser.
Gawker reports that as of 2007, Yele Haiti had no paid staffers and, according to their source, has one employee who works out of the kitchen in Wyclef's Manhattan recording studio.

Tonight, Hugh Locke, the president of Yele Haiti released a statement: “Wyclef Jean, the founder of Yéle Haiti has never profited from his organization.”

Now, I believe Wyclef is doing an awesome job calling the world's attention to his people.  He's been called the "Bono of Haiti" and in many ways, he is.  And, I'm of the belief that the spotlight is on all of these non-profit organizations and charities during this time of tragedy.  Wyclef won't be the only one under a microscope. Fact-checkers will be looking into all the non-profits' business practices well after this crisis is over.  I would hope that no organizations seek to profit from this tragedy, but, you never know. 

I've given my money to Yele Haiti, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.  I'm not writing that to toot my horn. I write it to say: spread your money around, divvy it up. Certainly, do background checks to be sure that you're giving to a reputable organization who'll distribute the funds to the people of Haiti.  Do your research and give with an open heart.

Do your part.

UPDATE: Click HERE for Wyclef's video response to the allegations.

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