Yéle Haiti was a charitable organization established in 2001 by Haitian musician and rapper Wyclef Jean, who was born in Haiti and has kept ties there. It is legally known as the Wyclef Jean Foundation and incorporated in the state of Illinois, United States. It operated into 2012, when it was closed after investigations by the New York State Attorney General over financial issues. The title was coined by Jean, meaning "cry for freedom." It publicized its fundraising to aid victims of the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake, but by February of that year, the New York Times reported that questions were raised over its finances, and that funds had been used to benefit Jean personally and members of his circle. The charity is subject to suits in Haiti attempting to recover unpaid debts.
Yéle Haiti was founded as a charitable organization by Haitian musician and rapper Wyclef Jean. Born in Haiti and immigrating with his family to the United States at age nine, he grew up in northern New Jersey. Becoming a Grammy Award-winning musician and rapper, he has kept family and other ties in Haiti.
The charity was known legally as the Wyclef Jean Foundation and was incorporated in 2001 in the state of Illinois. After the island suffered damage in 2004's Hurricane Jeanne, the foundation provided scholarships to 3,600 children in Gonaïves, Haiti, with funding from Comcel telephone service company. Yéle continued to provide scholarships, school funding, meals, and other charitable benefits to citizens of Haiti in the following years.
The 2010 Haiti earthquake devastated the island and its capital Port-au-Prince. According to Jean, Yéle raised more than $1 million in 24 hours using a plea on Twitter. His foundation raised additional funds after Jean took part in an MTV donation drive and other publicity efforts to benefit survivors of the earthquake. Together with actor and producer George Clooney, Jean organized the "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon. The most watched telethon to date in history, it aired on almost every network and many cable channels. Jean appeared as the last performer on the telethon, singing a medley that ended with Haiti's traditional Rara music.
Following the earthquake, the Yéle organization donated funds to orphanages, street cleaning crews, hospitals, and medical clinics. It also organized food service to provide hot meals to refugees and victims.
Not long after Yéle's heavily publicized efforts to raise money for disaster relief, questions were raised beginning in February 2010 about the history and management of the charity. Referring to materials posted during an investigation by the Smoking Gun website, the New York Times reported that the Wyclef Jean Foundation had failed to file required tax returns for 2005, 2006 and 2007 until 2009. It said that by early 2010, returns and records for 2008 had still not been filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The article, which included allegations by the Smoking Gun of mismanagement of funds, also reported criticism of the foundation by its former executive director, Sanjay Rawal. He questioned the foundation's ability to handle large projects and criticized its lack of financial controls.
Between 2005 and 2012, Yéle Haiti was managed by Rawal, co-founder and former chief executive Hugh Locke, Wyclef Jean (until he resigned after he announced his candidacy in August 2010 for the presidency of Haiti), and former chief executive Derek Q. Johnson. In August 2012, Johnson resigned and announced the closure of the charity. He said in a statement, "As the foundation’s sole remaining employee, my decision implies the closure of the organization as a whole." Johnson's resignation followed an investigation of the charity by the New York state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman. His office had been conducting settlement talks with Yéle officers over allegations of mismanagement - including improper payments by the charity to Jean, members of his family, and others connected to Jean. A forensic audit conducted by Schneiderman's office disclosed that in 2010, the year of the earthquake in Haiti, the organization had spent more than $9 million, with half of it for travel by Jean and other representatives, as well as salaries and consultants’ fees, and expenses related to the charity's offices and warehouse. The charity, which remains closed, is the subject of lawsuits in Haiti for unpaid debts.
- Stephanie Strom (February 5, 2010). "Haitian Quake Brings More Money and Scrutiny to a Charity". New York Times.
- Deborah Sontag (October 11, 2012). "In Haiti, Little Can Be Found of a Hip-Hop Artists Charity". New York Times.
- Jenna Wortham (January 15, 2010). "Burst of Mobile Giving via Cellphone Text Messages Adds Millions in Relief Funds". The New York Times.
- David Itzikoff (January 15, 2010). "Details of "Hope for Haiti" telethon are announced". New York Times.
- Elizabeth McAlister (2012). "Soundscapes of Disaster and Humanitarianism: Survival Singing, Relief Telethons, and the Haiti Earthquake". Small Axe. pp. 22–38.
- Sisario, Ben (January 21, 2010). "Beyonce and Madonna Join Hope for Haiti Telethon". New York Times.
- "Wyclef Jean Haiti Earthquake Appeal". 3threat Media. January 13, 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-18.