City Paper is not for tourists
The organizers of tonight’s 9:30 Club benefit for victims of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti say they still plan to donate half of the evening’s proceeds to Yéle Haiti, a nongovernmental organization founded by the Haitian-born performer Wyclef Jean.
Yéle came under fire over the weekend after the Smoking Gun reported that the organization’s tax filings for the years 2005-2007 showed a series of dubious payments to for-profit companies associated with Jean. Yéle’s president, Hugh Locke, responded to that report and others in a statement, and Jean recorded a video that the organization uploaded to YouTube. According to Yéle’s Web site, the organization “uses music, sports and the media to reinforce projects that are making a difference in education, health, environment and community development.”
In a press conference this afternoon, Locke and Jean apologized for what they characterized as accounting mistakes but defended the intent of the organization’s actions—-including paying $100,000 to a recording studio owned by Jean for the production and performance of a 2006 benefit concert in Monte Carlo, and paying $250,000 for airtime for educational programming to a Haitian television station owned by Jean. “Have we made mistakes before? Yes. Did I ever use Yéle money for personal benefits? Absolutely not,” Jean said. Locke said that in the past, Yéle used companies partially owned by Jean and board member Jerry Duplessis for cheaper, quicker access to services, but that it would not do so in the future.
A spokesperson for the 9:30 Club, Audrey Schaefer, said the venue has been following reports on Yéle. “We feel a very strong sense of confidence [in Yéle] in terms of the reaction to the report and in terms of what Wyclef himself is saying.”
“I think it’s fair for every organization to meet a standard and we’ll continue to watch it, but from what we’re seeing so far it’s an organization that’s run well,” Shaefer said. “And frankly, we don’t want people to get distracted. There’s a great need there. Even Wyclef said [in his video], ‘Examine us, if you want to give somewhere else, just give.’ “
Members of the group organizing the event, DMV Supports Haiti, held several conference calls over the weekend to discuss the allegations that Yéle has mishandled its finances. “We’re very confident in responding the organization. We stand firm in our decision,” said Candice Mackel, the publicist for the event. “We’re just looking to have a wonderful show and to keep in mind that this is for Haiti. This is for a good cause. We just want to keep it positive.”
The concert, which will feature performances from Wale, Tabi Bonney, D.C. Don Juan, Phil Adé, XO, Kingpen Slim, and others, will also benefit Partners in Health, a Boston-based nonprofit that operates nearly a dozen hospitals in Haiti. The organization is helping rehabilitate the public University Hospital in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital which was decimated by the earthquake last week. The top U.S. military commander in Haiti, Lt. Gen. P. K. Keen, has estimated that 150,000 to 200,000 have died since the quake hit.
The concert will likely sell out, Schaefer said.
Yéle Haiti is currently collecting supplies for an airlift sometime this week out of Miami. At the press conference, Locke said that because of Jean’s iconic status among Haitians and the group’s on-the-ground knowledge of the country, Yéle should play an essential role in relief and rebuilding efforts. He said a law firm, DLA Piper, and an auditing firm, Grant Thornton, will oversee Yéle’s relief efforts. Locke said the group hopes to raise $1 million a day.
Jean, who spent three days last week in Haiti, said he hopes that Yéle will assist with an eventual evacuation of Port-au-Prince. “I give you my word, if I tell them to go, they will go,” he said.