Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 9:01 a.m.
In his young bid to become Haiti's next president, Wyclef Jean has already weathered more criticism than Rick Santorum at a Dan Savage house party. Mostly, he's been hammered for his record running his charity, Yéle, which paid hundreds of thousands in fishy fees to Wyclef himself or his friends. And mostly he has emerged intact.
But the New York Times has a new investigation out this morn
with a charge even the former Fugee might not be able to dodge. Wyclef talked a pregnant Angelina Jolie into selling her baby bump photos to a tabloid in exchange for a hefty Yéle donation -- and then allegedly used the cash to build a tricked-out Carnival float! You do not
do Angelina like that!
The sordid tale begins in 2006, according to the Times, when the preggers Jolie let People photograph her in exchange for a $600,000 donation to Yéle. That same month, Jean's charity paid his personal TV station in Haiti $250,000 for a series of videos featuring Wyclef and his celeb buddies -- films he now characterizes as "cultural education."
But the more serious accusation comes from Sanjay Rawal, Yéle's director in 2004 and later a board member. Rawal says Jean actually spent the $250,000 on an insanely over-the-top Carnival float, which featured the singer in "a frilly blouse and gilded epaulettes" and a live tiger.
Jean, for his part, denies the accusation and chalks it up to "disgruntled ex-employees."
What say you, Angelina?
The Times report also contains more mundane, but distressing, accusations -- more specifically, that Yéle hasn't done much with the $10.5 million it raked in after the earthquake.
The paper describes destitute Haitians looking for assistance at Yéle's palatial headquarters and being turned away at the gate, and residents of tent cities Yéle supposedly supports denying they've ever been given much more than a busted TV set from the charity.
Finally, the Times talks to political experts worried that Jean will now use substantial Yéle bank account to fund his presidential bid -- a move that could cause even more trouble with the IRS, which is already looking for $2.1 million in back taxes from the musician.
Jean, for his part, sticks up for his charity work. "We're not a massive organization," he says, "but what we have, I'm proud of."