Donating to charities is now a hazardous undertaking.
We must exercise caution and discernment when we give to even well-established charities like United Way, given disgraceful incidents of their CEOs’ misuse of donated funds on lavish personal expenditures like gold bathroom faucets. All the more dubious are charities set up by “celebrities” in the “entertainment” industry which lack a track record as well as institutionalized checks and balance.
Madonna Louise Ciccone’s Malawi charity is an example. Here’s the latest.
Wyclef Jean is a Haiti-born American rapper, singer, record producer, and aspiring politician. Although he has an estimated net worth of $50 million, Jean fancies himself one of the oppressed 99% and is a vocal supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
In April 2012, Jean released a song “Justice” as a musical tribute to Trayvon Martin
In 2004, Jean set up a charitable organization “Yele Haiti” to help his poor homeland. In 2010, a terrible 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti, killing more than 316,000 and leaving one million homeless. Yele Haiti received millions of dollars in donation from viewers of the MTV telethon Hope for Haiti and audiences for numerous benefit concerts and other events.
The UK’s Daily Mail reports, Oct. 12, 2012, that Jean’s Haiti charity is a “cesspool of fraud and broken promises” and has collapsed under a mountain of debt.
The collapse of the organization once labelled by its founder as Haiti’s ‘greatest asset and ally’ comes after years of accusations of mishandled funds totaling $16million.
The group, which the Haitian-born Jean stated in 2004, was small in its first years of operation, with assets amounting to only $37,000, but according to the New York Times, after the devastating 2010 earthquake, donations started pouring in.
Jean said he raised $1million in 24 hours after issuing a plea for help on Twitter. But rather than using the money to help the millions of displaced residents living on the quake-ravaged streets of Port-au-Prince, the Times reported that Yele funneled a large portion of the funds to pay for ‘offices, salaries, consultants’ fees and travel’ to say nothing of Jean’s family, friends and legal team.
In one case, the group allegedly shelled out $30,763 to fly Hollywood starlet Lindsay Lohan from New Jersey to a charity event in Chicago that raised $66,000.
In another instance, Yele Haiti spent nearly $58,000 on private jets to fly actor Matt Damon and Jean’s other celebrity friends to Haiti. [One would think that given Damon’s estimated earnings of $65 million and his vaunted reputation as a philanthropist, he could have paid for his own transportation to Haiti. ~Eowyn]
Wyclef Jean (why is he wearing army fatigues?) and Matt Damon handing out relief food to Haiti’s earthquake survivors.
‘If I had depended on Yele, these kids would all be dead by now,’ says Diaoly Estime, who runs an orphanage in Haiti’s capital.
Following the earthquake, Yele spent $9 million of its $16 million on office space, workers’ salaries and other expenses.
About $600,000 in donations went toward Yele’s headquarters, which have since been abandoned; another $375,000 was used to cover ‘landscaping’ costs; and more than $470,000 was spent on food and beverages.
Wyclef Jean, who made an unsuccessful bid for Haiti’s presidency in 2010, reportedly paid himself $100,000 to perform in a charity concert and gave his family over $500,000 for unspecified work. Also, $37,000 was paid by Yele to cover the rent of Jean’s Manhattan studio.
According to The Smoking Gun, the charity also made payments of more than $100,000 to the alleged mistress of the married 42-year-old singer.
As for Yele’s much-hyped revitalization plans, many of them never got off the ground. The group paid $146,000 to build a medical center inside geodesic domes and another $93,000 to erect temporary housing, but neither project was completed.
A New York attorney general’s investigation into Yele’s pre-earthquake activities has already found financial improprieties. The forensic audit covering the time period between 2005 and 2009 found $256,580 in illegitimate benefits to Jean and other Yéle board and staff members, as well as other improper transactions.
At the end of August, Derek Q. Johnson, Yele’s chief executive, announced his resignation after Jean rejected a settlement offered by the attorney general that would have required the singer and the two other Yele founders to pay $600,000 in restitution ‘to remedy the waste of the foundation’s assets.’
Before I give to a charity, I always check it out on websites such as Charity Navigator.
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