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Wyclef: Humanitarian or Thief?

It’s always been said there’s three sides to every story. Yours. Mine. And what actually happened. In the case of Wyclef Jean, the same logic applies. As a musician, we all know ‘Clef’s story. One third of the legendary Fugees and a more than successful solo career which has seen him honored at the highest of stages.  Musically speaking, his tunes are just as therapeutic as they are motivational. His humanitarian side, however, is just as chronicled. For as long as I can remember, Haiti has never been far from his mind, words and actions. Keep in mind he was doing this LONG before that earthquake crippled his native country. He did more than speak on change in Haiti, he actually went to the country to leave his own footprint. Even with the negatives Hip-Hop is often associated with, Clef proved that it could make a positive, worldwide impact. He’s done so for years.

But ironically, it’s that earthquake which has shaken his career and brand. All those years spent to build a positive and caring image came crashing down shortly after the ‘quake. Let the blog sites and magazines tell it, Wyclef is a hypocrite. He’s a guy who used his Yele Foundation as a front for his financial improprieties. He’s also the guy who whose love for his country is only overpowered by the love of money and women. The Smoking Gun releasing documents a few weeks ago didn’t help his cause either.

Internal Revenue Service records show the group has a lackluster history of accounting for its finances, and that the organization has paid the performer and his business partner at least $410,000 for rent, production services, and Jean’s appearance at a benefit concert. Though the Wyclef Jean Foundation, which does business as Yele Haiti Foundation, was incorporated 12 years ago and has been active since that time the group only first filed tax returns in August 2009. That month, the foundation provided the IRS with returns covering calendar years 2005, 2006, and 2007 the only periods for which it has publicly provided a glimpse at its financial affairs.

As seen on the following pages from the foundation’s 2006 tax return, the group paid $31,200 in rent to Platinum Sound, a Manhattan recording studio owned by Jean and Jerry Duplessis, who, like Jean, is a foundation board member. A $3, 200 rent payment was also made in 2007 to Platinum Sound. The rent, tax returns assure, “is priced below market value.” The recording studio also was paid $100,000 in 2006 for the “musical performance services of Wyclef Jean at a benefit concert.” That six-figure payout, the tax return noted, “was substantially less than market value.” The return, of course, does not address why Jean needed to be paid to perform at his own charity’s fundraiser. But the largest 2006 payout a whopping $250,000 went to Telemax, S.A., a for-profit Haiti company in which Jean and Duplessis were said to “own a controlling interest.”

Wyclef emphatically denied any malicious wrongdoing, stating he had not profited as a result of his efforts.“Did we make mistakes, yes,” Clef said. “Did I ever use any of Yéle’s money for personal benefit, no. Yéle’s books are open and transparent, and we have been a clean bill of health by an external auditor every year since we started.”

Wyclef explained that he started Yéle Haiti out of his own pocket. But since the group began they have had a notable impact in Haiti, with an emphasis on arts, education, sports and the environment. Yéle Haiti’s president Huge Locke, said at at Yele Foundation press conference in January, which included Russell Simmons and Andre Harrell, that the charitable endeavor has helped to assist over 27,000 students with scholarships and tuition aid.

Where was all this concern about his charity when they were allegedly avoiding taxes in ’06 and ’07? There was none because no one gave a damn about Yele before the earthquake. Even with the rough 2K10 he’s having, Clef has still been on the receiving end of awards humanitarian awards, most notably from Harvard University and the NAACP. Which side of the story you happen to side with is completely up to you: Wyclef’s account or what is actually being reported. Unfortunately, we’ll likely never know the “real” story. Just be sure to judge a man by his actions and not by the words of others.

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