We Shouldn't Have Given Wyclef Jean $16 Million

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Wyclef Jean told us to trust him to help Haitians after the massive earthquake in 2010. People did, first giving his Yéle $1 million in 24 hours and $16 million altogether. Now the charity is defunct and that money appears to have gone everywhere except to the victims who needed it. "[A]n examination of the charity indicates that millions in donations for earthquake victims went to its own offices, salaries, consultants’ fees and travel, to Mr. Jean’s brother-in-law for projects never realized ..." reports The New York Times's Deborah Sontag, in a scathing, follow-up report on the charity's activities. More specifically, Sontag writes:

In 2010, Yéle spent $9 million and half went to travel, to salaries and consultants’ fees and to expenses related to their offices and warehouse. In contrast, another celebrity charity, Sean Penn’s J/P Haitian Relief Organization, spent $13 million with only 10 percent going to those costs.

That's $4.5 million right off the bat that Haitians were never going to see. The rest was spent even more shadily—like paying Jean's brother-in-law:

There were questionable contracts, too: Mr. Jean’s brother-in-law, Eric Warnel Pierre, collected about $630,000 for three projects including the medical center and the plaza — what Yéle’s tax forms called “the rebuilding of Haiti." Mr. Pierre did not respond to messages left for him. 

Sontag's report also lists off things like spending nearly $100,000 on temporary homes that were never built, a $230,000 plaza revitalization effort that was never seen, and a $146,000 for a future medical center that still only exists in imagination. And perhaps we should have known better. 

The quake hit on January 12, 2010. Two days later, on January 14, the Christian Science Monitor's David Grant reported that Jean had already raised some $400,000 via text message. And Grant had reported that emergency relief experts and groups were warning us that Yéle shouldn't be our first choice for donations. Eight days later, Jean had already raised more than $2 million for Yéle and some homework on the organization's expenses was being done on Yéle. Tax returns showed that money from the organization from 2005 on went to things like a $31,000 payment to a recording studio. And we were already asking ourselves and Wyclef if he ever spent the money on himself. Jean, in between bouts of tears, told reporters at the time, "The fact that these attacks come as we are mobilized to meet the greatest human tragedy in the history of Haiti only serves to perplex me even further." Jean had a chance, now wasted to prove his critics wrong.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.