The Harvard Foundation, a group of uncertain purpose*—but that’s a hell of a good name for a foundation to have—has decided to give its “artist of the year” award to Wyclef Jean, formerly of the hip-hop band the Fugees.

The Grammy Award-winning musician will receive the group’s most prestigious medal at the annual Cultural Rhythms award ceremony on Feb. 27.

“His contributions to music and distinguished history of creativity have been appreciated by people throughout the world,” said S. Allen Counter, director of the Harvard Foundation, “and he is admired worldwide for his humanitarian efforts on behalf of the people of Haiti.”

Actually, that’s not true. There’s substantial evidence not only that Jean hasn’t helped the people of Haiti, but that he’s redirected money intended for Haitians into his own bank account.

The best reporting on this has actually come from Gawker, which has established that Jean’s pro-Haiti charity, Yele Haiti, is basically a scam.

Here’s one example:

A planned fundraiser for Wyclef Jean‘s charity in 2006 was canceled in part because Jean’s personal $100,000 performance fee made the event too expensive, according to internal e-mails and a source familiar with the event.

As Gawker rightly points out, why would Wyclef Jean be charging for a benefit concert for his own charity?

Documents posted by The Smoking Gun suggest that Yele Haiti has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations apparently controlled by Wyclef Jean himself.

Jean may have needed the money because, after the Fugees split up, his career tanked. One example: A 2005 Harvard concert was cancelled due to lack of ticket sales. (And if you can’t sell out a college….)

….[Yele Haiti] 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 $31,200 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.” [Blogger: Judging from the Harvard concert, this is not convincing.] 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.”

…The group’s tax returns also report “consultant” payments totaling $300,000 between 2005-2007, while the 2006 return reported nearly $225,000 in “promotion and PR” costs. These expenses are not itemized further in the IRS returns.

Promotion and PR costs? For a charity?

Playing catch-up, the Times reports on the controversy.

The charity — which says on its Web site that it has created more than 3,000 jobs, put close to 7,000 children in school, and provided more than 8,000 people a month with food, has had trouble making ends meet for most of its 11-year history. In 2007, it ran a $490,000 deficit, which was covered by a loan from a Canadian foundation.

Until recently, Yéle did not maintain basic records required of nonprofit groups. Yéle, which is legally known as the Wyclef Jean Foundation, was not active from 2001 through 2004 and not obligated to file tax forms, according to Hugh Locke, its president.

But when the charity became active again in 2005, it still did not file any tax forms until the state attorney general’s office in Illinois, where Yéle is registered, asked for them. It filed tax forms for 2005, 2006 and 2007 on Aug. 20, 2009 — a move that Charity Navigator, an independent nonprofit evaluator, called odd and “beyond late.

So why is the Harvard Foundation honoring someone who seems to have scammed donors to his Haitian charity for personal enrichment?

Don’t look to the Harvard Gazette, which prints its usual pap, or the Crimson, which has nothing on the story.

Perhaps it’s worth asking Allen Counter, the director of the Harvard Foundation

Or advisory board member and Harvard College dean Evelynn Hammonds, who has been so outspoken about Haiti.

As the Times puts it,

H. Art Taylor, chief executive of the Wise Giving Alliance, agreed, and said he wondered why donors were so supportive of fund-raising by celebrities.

“Wyclef Jean has been like a magnet to attract money to his charity, and we don’t have even the slightest idea of how he or his organization intend to use this money,” Mr. Taylor said. “What’s the plan?

Wyclef Jean hasn’t released an album since 2007, and his “charity” appears like a for-profit company—for Wyclef Jean’s profit. And it’s worth noting that Yele Haiti is pointedly not on the long list of charities listed by Drew Faust on her “Support Haiti Earthquake Relief” page.

So why exactly is Wyclef Jean the Harvard Foundation’s “artist of the year“?


*From its website: “For the past seventeen years, the Harvard Foundation has sponsored a variety of programs which have informed the subjcct of American and global cultural pluralism.”