The Haiti earthquake has already triggered hundreds of thousands of donations to musician Wyclef Jean’s charitable foundation, which expects to raise upwards of $1 million a day in the disaster’s wake.
However, 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.
There’s no doubt Wyclef Jean — who has raised $1 million since the Haiti earthquake — wants to help his homeland. But a look at his personal foundation’s finances raises questions about whether it’s wisely managing the donations it’s collecting.
The Smoking Gun took a look at the finances of Yele Haiti, the foundation Wyclef Jean founded to help his homeland—and it’s ugly. Jean founded Yele Haiti in 1998, according to TSG, but didn’t file any tax returns until five month ago, in August 2009. And the returns filed so far—for 2005, 2006, and 2007 only—reveal that Yele directed huge sums of money to commercial entities that Jean and his business partner Jerry Duplessis own stakes in.
The most eye-popping expenditure is $250,000 that the foundation paid in 2006 to Telemax, S.A., a Haitian television company that Jean and Duplessis own a controlling interest in. The payment for “airtime and production services” appears to have been related to a telethon of some sort that Yele Haiti produced in the country—its chalked up to “outreach”—and amounts to one out of every five dollars that the foundation took in that year. The return claims the fees were “below market” and constituted the “most efficient” way for Yele Haiti to conduct outreach.