Helped by a massive campaign on Twitter, Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti Foundation has raised more than $2 million since last week’s devastating Port-au-Prince earthquake using reverse-billed text messages and it looks set to raise millions more.
But even as Mr Jean, a multi-platinum performer and producer, was in Haiti helping the quake victims, The Smoking Gun (TSG) website published a series of documents which called the charity’s finances into question and revealed that its corporate status had repeatedly been suspended in Florida because of missing paperwork.
In 2006, for example, the charity, which was set up in 1998 as the Wyclef Jean Foundation, received a little over $1 million, most of it from People magazine after Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie sold, for charity, the first rights to publish photos of their twins.
But according to TSG, tax records showed that the group paid Mr Jean and his business partner at least $410,000 for rent and production services, including $100,000 for the singer’s appearance at a benefit concert. Experts questioned that level of expenses.
Mr Jean, whose uncle is the Haitian ambassador to the United States, returned to his homeland within hours of Tuesday’s quake and spent several days helping victims of the country’s worst ever natural disaster and assessing the situation.
At the weekend, back in the United States, he responded to the accusations against him with an angry statement on his website in which he denied ever having profited personally from the foundation’s activities.
“I gotta tell you, coming back in here after digging kids up and finding cemeteries for them [and] this is what I come back to: an attack on my integrity and my foundation, Yele Haiti, he said in an accompanying YouTube video.
“Well let me tell, first of all you can donate to whatever charity you want to. I’m not here to force you to donate to Yele Haiti.”
Referring to the allegation that he had been paid to appear at one of his own fundraising concerts, he said that the money was to meet costs such as lighting, projection and hiring a band.
“I have never and would never take money for my personal pocket when it comes to Yele,” he said. “I myself have put a million dollars inside my own foundation. Not only do I denounce that, I am disgusted by that.”
The Grammy-winning 37-year-old has been imploring followers in the United States to text “Yele” to 501501 to donate $5 to his foundation. Yele Haiti intends to airlift medical supplies, water and Clif Bars to Haiti using a FedEx plane early next week.
The singer is also due to join the actor George Clooney to to co-host a telethon for Haiti next week which will include performances from Bono, Sting, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys.
The show, from New York, will benefit Unicef, the Red Cross, Oxfam America, Partners in Health and the Yele Haiti Foundation.