Wyclef Defends Yele at Teary-Eyed Press Conference
By Sam Brand Posted Jan 18th 2010 11:12PM
The face of the ongoing tragedy in Haiti broke into tears Monday during a press conference called to dispel rumors that his Yele Haiti foundation had misused funds and failed to properly file its taxes. "If you're a man with a clear conscience, speak with a clear conscience and the world will know," Wyclef Jean said to an audience of reporters. "The books are open. We have a clean bill of health from an auditor."
On Thursday, The Smoking Gun published a report accusing Jean of using using Yele Haiti funds for his own personal use and failing to file tax returns in a timely manner.
Wyclef lashed out at the rumors on Monday. "Have I made mistakes? Yes," Jean said at the news conference. "Did I ever use Yele money for personal benefits? Absolutely not."
The Smoking Gun lists among the charity's 2006 expenditures over $30,000 in recording studio rent, $100,000 in performance fees, and $250,000 in "TV airtime and production services" paid to a Haitian company that lists Jean on its board.
In an odd twist, the report claims that the "bulk" of Yele Haiti's 2006 contributions came from PEOPLE magazine in exchange for the publishing rights to the first photos of Angelina Jolie pregnant with daughter Shiloh. Jolie and Brad Pitt were known supporters of Yele in 2006.
Wyclef isn't alone in calling the accusations misleading. Hugh Locke, president of Yele, took to the podium on Monday to justify the questionable 2006 payments.
"On the books, it looks as though there was benefit, but there was not," he said. "It was not done with the intent to do anything other than be efficient."
Many nonprofit experts have taken Yele's side. It's not uncommon for charities to purchase goods or services from a business connected with the charity, especially if the purchases were made below market value, which is reportedly the case here.
As for the tardy tax returns, which were filed "beyond late" according to nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator, Locke takes full blame. "We should have been on top of it; we were not," he said on Monday.
The allegations threaten to derail a charity effort that has been overwhelmingly successful since the 7.0 earthquake struck 8 miles beneath Port-au-Prince, causing massive devastation and an estimated 100,000 casualties. Yele reportedly pulled in over $1 million in the disaster's first 36 hours, and the foundation now counts its donation base at "several million dollars."
Wyclef tearfully insisted the money will be put to good use. "I was the one carrying the little girls to the morgue. In reality, my people are dying. I have to go back for relief. I do not cry for myself. I cry for them," the star said.
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