In response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake, hip-hop artists Wyclef Jean's Yéle Haiti, which first opened its doors in 2001, received over $1 million in donations within 24 hours. The charitable organization pledged to use the donations to help rebuild the country's economy by creating new jobs while providing much-needed food and shelter for thousands of displaced Haitians. By the numbers, the New York based charitable organization claims that their efforts have created 3,000 new jobs and fed over 8,000 families. Reports indicate that many of the job-creating, economy-building efforts never began and the charity has closed its doors in the midst of a $16 million controversy.
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake left one million people homeless, caused over 200,000 deaths, destroyed the country's infrastructure, and extinguished the local economy. Everyone from politicians to celebrities joined in fundraising efforts to rebuild this already-impoverished country, Wyclef Jean, a Haitian-American, was one of the first celebrities to lead the charge. For his efforts, his charity raised $16 million.
A short time after receiving millions of dollars in donations, the charity was under fire for financial irregularities and improprieties. Two short years later, Yéle Haiti no longer exists, leaving a number of questions in its wake. One of the biggest questions is what happened to the reported $16 million raised?
Numbers rarely lie. So the state of New York sent in forensic auditor to take a look at Yele Haiti's books. What the auditor reportedly found was that of the $16 million raised, over $250,000 was allegedly paid out as "illegitimate benefits" to Wyclef Jean and other Yéle Haiti board members. The foundation spent $9 million in 2010, and unfortunately, $4.5 million went to pay for salaries, transportation and office expenses. Not job training, housing, healthcare, or economic development.
Additionally, a reported $600,000 was allegedly spent on the Haitian headquarters, which now sits empty. What's worse is that the projects, such as building a new medical center and creating a job corps, either never started or were not completed.
As for Wyclef Jean and his defense of the suspected financial improprieties, he refused a deal with the State's Attorney office in New York. His response to those accusing him of using the charity for personal gain he stated? "I have a watch collection worth $500,000," and that "Yéle is Haiti’s greatest asset and ally."
That "I'm so rich I own a half-a-million watch collection" defense isn't winning Mr. Jean any supporters. Wyclef may proclaim that he has been crucified by the press and the New York State's Attorney's office, but the real people being punished here are the Haitians that believed in his and Yéle Haiti's promises that never came to pass.