Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wyclef Jean Defends Charity Amid Financial Scandal

Haitian-born hip hop star Wyclef Jean is defending his charity, Yele, amid reports the now-defunct organization improperly used funds meant for relief efforts.

According to a report in The New York Times, Yele, which Jean founded in 2005 and was based in New York City, closed its doors last summer after a continuing investigation by the NY Attorney General's Office found the charity misappropriated funds meant for victims of the Haiti earthquake. Yet despite these woes, Jean still stands by his efforts.

In his new memoir, "Purpose: An Immigrant's Story," Jean denied that he used his charity for personal gain. He wrote that he had no need for more personal wealth, citing his watch collection worth $500,000 as an example of his well-being. He also wrote that, someday, people will understand that "Yele is Haiti's greatest ally and asset."

At the end of August, Derek Q. Johnson, Yele's former chief executive, announced his resignation in an e-mail to supporters.

"As the foundation’s sole remaining employee, my decision implies the closure of the organization as a whole," wrote Mr. Johnson, who replaced Jean as the head of the organization after he announced a failed candidacy for Haiti's president. Johnson's resignation came after Jean refused to accept a settlement proposed by NY Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman that would have required Jean and Yele's two other co-founders to pay $600,000 in restitution to cover the "waste" of the organization's assets.

A forensic audit of the organization from 2005 to 2009 found that, of the $3 million in expenses during that time period, there were $256,580 in illegitimate benefits to Jean and other staff and board members, including $24,000 for a chauffeur service, and $30,763 for a private jet to take actress Lindsay Lohan to a benefit in Chicago. That fundraiser netted only $66,000. In addition, The New York Post reported last November that, despite receiving $16 million in donations for the Haiti earthquake, Yele spent only $5.1 million on disaster relief.

Yele was hardly a mammoth entity before the Haiti earthquake, having only $37,000 in assets. After the quake struck, however, Jean was able to raise $1 million in 24 hours by urging his Twitter followers to donate via text. He also garnered attention for his organization when he co-hosted MTV's "Hope For Haiti" telethon with actor George Clooney.

You can read the full story in The New York Times.

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