Wyclef Jean's Haitian Charity Comes Under Scrutiny

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A small organization founded by Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean has received millions of dollars in donations for earthquake relief since Tuesday. But serious questions have arisen about its bookkeeping. NPR's Neda Ulaby reports.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Other news about Haiti - a small organization called Yele Haiti has received millions of dollars in donations since Tuesdays earthquake, but serious questions have arisen about its book-keeping.

NPRs Neda Ulaby reports.

NEDA ULABY: Musician Wyclef Jean started a charitable organization in his home country after selling millions of albums here.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. WYCLEF JEAN (Singer): (Singing) When I come back, therell be no need (unintelligible) I have enough money to buy out (unintelligible)

ULABY: The former Fugees member opened a U.S. branch of his organization in the late 1990s. In 2005, it became known as Yele Haiti.

Mr. ART TAYLOR: It looks like the organization up until now has operated on a pretty small scale.

ULABY: Art Taylor(ph) tracks charities for the Better Business Bureau.

Mr. TAYLOR: Most of the money they collect they seem to distribute out in the form of grants to other organizations.

ULABY: Schools, environmental groups. Yele Haitis annual budget is around $2 million. Thats how much it has gotten in donations this week alone, which piqued William Basdens(ph) curiosity.

Mr. WILLIAM BASDEN: This is a charity that now is getting lots and lots of money. I think its a legitimate question to wonder whether they know what to do with the money

ULABY: So the editor of the Web site The Smoking Gun and his staff dug through Yele Haitis public IRS filings. They found that back then it was known as the Wyclef Jean Foundation it was dissolved involuntarily by the state, Florida, where it was based. But Yele Haitis president, Hugh Locke, begs to differ.

Mr. HUGH LOCKE (President, Yele Haiti): It was never dissolved, it was simply that it had gone inactive, and there hadnt been filings because there wasnt sufficient activity.

ULABY: Still, after the foundation reorganized in 2005, it took several years for it to file tax return. And in the Smoking Gun's Bastone says the returns prove substantial financial mismanagement, especially in 2006.

Mr. BASTONE: During that one year in the vicinity of $410,000 basically went to Mr. Jean and his partner.

ULABY: More than a quarter of that money went to a recording studio that Jean and his business partner own. And it looked to Bastone like Jean was paid $100,000 to perform in a benefit for his own foundation. The Yele Haiti president Hugh Locke says that can be explained too.

Mr. HUGH LOCKE (President, Yele Haiti): That $100,000 covered a range of different services, including musicians and equipment rental.

ULABY: Locke says Yele Haiti did nothing wrong.

Mr. LOCKE: Not that this is a justification. We were focused on delivery of services in Haiti.

ULABY: Yele Haiti has also been criticized because its Web site claims 100 percent of donations now are going to earthquake relief. Thats true, says Locke; overhead costs are paid from its base budget. And because this is not just a story about dollars and cents, I asked Locke if he had lost staff in the earthquake. This is how he responded.

(Soundbite of labored breathing)

ULABY: The last thing this organization needed was a public relations disaster on top of the one in Haiti.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, Gone Till November)

Mr. WYCLEF JEAN (Singer): (singing) And I committed that Ill be back in November.

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