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 $16 million.
“If I had depended on Yéle,” said Diaoly Estimé, whose orphanage features a wall painting of Mr. Jean and his wife, “these kids would all be dead by now.”
“Yéle was small before the earthquake, with only $37,000 in assets,” reports The New York Times. “Immediately afterward, money started pouring in. Mr. Jean said he raised $1 million in 24 hours when he urged his Twitter followers to text donations.”
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. the Times‘ Deborah Sontag reports, the charity has finally called it quits, “leaving a trail of debts, unfinished projects and broken promises.”
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 spent nearly $58,000 on private jets to fly actor Matt Damon and Jean’s other celebrity friends to Haiti.
Not to mention, The Smoking Gun posted documents showing that the group made payments of over $100,000 to Jean’s alleged mistress.
Between 2005-2009, the charity spent “$256,580 in illegitimate benefits to Mr. Jean and other Yéle board and staff members as well as improper or potentially improper transactions.”
The 47-year-old Haitian born rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer and actor made an unsuccessful bid for Haiti’s presidency in 2010, when the Electoral Commission subsequently ruled him ineligible to stand as he had not met the requirement to have been resident in Haiti for five years. Clef 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.
Last year, after reporters began wondering what had become of Yele’s cash reserves, the New York Attorney General began a forensic audit of its finances. So far, its investigation has covered only the years 2004-2009, before the earthquake struck. But its findings are already damning. According to the auditors Jean and fellow board members improperly benefited to the tune of at least $256,580 during that period.
Sontag turned up plenty of other examples of Jean’s profligacy: $600,000 spent on Yele’s Haiti headquarters, which are now abandoned. More than $300,000 on “landscaping.” More than $400,000 spent on food and beverages. Hundreds of thousands on projects that simply never happened:
Some of Yéle’s programming money went to projects that never came to fruition: temporary homes for which it prepaid $93,000; a medical center to have been housed in geodesic domes for which it paid $146,000; the revitalization of a plaza in the Cité Soleil slum, where supposed improvements that cost $230,000 are nowhere to be seen.
At the end of August 2016, Derek Q. Johnson, Yéle’s chief executive, announced his resignation to supporters, saying “As the foundation’s sole remaining employee, my decision implies the closure of the organization as a whole.”
According to The Times, Johnson, a former Time Warner exec, resigned “after Jean declined to accept a settlement proposed by the attorney general covering the charity’s pre-earthquake activities … As an alternative to a costly trial, prosecutors have offered Jean a plea deal in which he would pay $600,000 in restitution to “remedy the waste of the foundation’s assets” between 2004 and 2009, and agree to a full audit of its post-earthquake expenditure. The singer has refused the deal.
Mr Jean’s lawyer has insisted that he is “committed to ensuring that things are made right”. Meanwhile, in a recent autobiography which details his rise to fame during the 1990s as a member of the Fugees, the singer denied wrongdoing. He had no need to improperly benefit from Yele’s funds, he wrote, because he was already wealthy. “I have a watch collection worth $500,000,” he declared.