Debt Sinks Wyclef Jean's Yele Charity

Audit shows improper payments to singer and staff members

wyclef jean
Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images
Wyclef Jean in Philadelphia.
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Wyclef Jean's Yéle foundation in Haiti has been shuttered, The New York Times reports, leaving behind a trial of debt and unfinished projects. An audit of $3 million in expenses between 2005-09 uncovered $256,580 in improper benefits and transactions to the singer, as well as board and staff members at Yéle. Among the findings: Jean spending $24,000 on chauffeur services, and $30,763 on a private plan for Lindsay Lohan from New Jersey to a Chicago benefit that raised $66,000.

But the audit gave a pass to other deals, including the charity paying Jean $100,000 to perform at a Yéle fundraiser – a figure in line with the singer's market rate – and spending $125,114 on travel and expenses related to a 60 Minutes segment, citing heightened awareness for the organization. Yéle also was cleared for $57,927 for private flights to Haiti for Matt Damon and others because they resulted in "substantial contributions."

Yéle spent $9 million in 2010, but used half the money for travel, salaries and consultant fees and office expenses. Yéle racked up $1.4 million for office-related expenses, including $37,000 for rent for Jean's recording studio in Manhattan and $375,000 for "landscaping." The charity spent $470,440 on its own food and beverages.

The organization also dished out money for projects that were never completed, including $93,000 for temporary homes, $146,000 for a medical center designed with geodesic domes and $230,000 for improvements to a plaza that have yet to materialize. Jean's brother-in-law appears to have benefitted from Yéle contracts, too, collecting $630,000 for projects including the plaza and medical center, and landing a $154,000 contract to build additions to an orphanage. Yéle's tax forms called it "the rebuilding of Haiti."

Yéle also faces legal challenges from vendors: a Haitian caterer has sued the organization for $430,000, claiming the charity never payed for hot meals served to displaced Haitians. Yet, Amisphere Farm Labor, a Miami company incorporated in 2008 and shut down in 2009, was paid $1 million for those same hot meals.

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