Monday, February 20, 2012

Is Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice perpetrating fraud?

Performer Wyclef Jean wrote and sang a song for Team Forte during their first challenge, after donating $15,000 to the Wayuu Taya Foundation.

I set aside some time last night to watch the season premiere of Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice which aired from 9 PM to 11 PM on NBC on Sunday night. The show is great on many levels: It affords some lesser known celebrities more exposure and introduces the TV viewing audience to a few very worthy charities, reminding us how important it is to give what we can, when we can. However, the first challenge left a sour taste in my mouth as money raised for one charity was turned over to another.

At the start of the show, the eighteen contestants were divided into two groups of nine men and nine women. Each group chose a team name — "Unanimous" for the men, "Forte" for the women — then participated in their first challenge, selling heros for heroes — making and selling hero sandwiches to raise money for each team leaders' favorite charity.

Patricia Velasquez, known for her acting roles on movies such as The Mummy, eagerly volunteered to be the first team leader for Team Forte, so that she could begin raising money for a charity that is particularly near and dear to her, the Wayuu Taya Foundation, which serves indigenous peoples of Latin America.

In her bio, Velasquez says that she herself is Wayuu Indian. "I was one of those kids who grew up really poor, but was able to get out, because I got a chance. I got an opportunity."

At the time she started her charity exactly ten years ago, she says that one child within the Latin indigenous populations was dying each day. She constructed a school for thirty children where she could then use the school as a vehicle to provide them with food and medical care and now serves a thousand poverty-stricken children.

"Right now, I'm here because I have almost 500 kids that are literally sleeping under the trees waiting for me to finish a school. To build it, to finish it. And if I have a school, I can get two meals a day for them and medical attention. I can't turn them back. I have to build a school."

Velasquez led her team impressively, placing each of her nine members where they could do the most good for the team, some cutting up vegetables and slicing meat, some assembling sandwiches, some outside corralling donors inside, and some entertaining and hobnobbing with their guests.

A personal friend of Velasquez, Performer Wyclef Jean, came in to the cafe with his guitar to sing songs for the crowd, telling Velasquez, "I'm going to donate $15,000... for the kids. Because we could have been one of them. We are one of them." Wyclef himself is a native of Haiti and the son of a Nazarene pastor who moved to Brooklyn with his family when he was nine-years-old.

Through the generous donations of several good friends, Team Forte raised an impressive $126,962, for the Wayuu Taya Foundation, or so they thought.

However, Team Unanimous, led by American Chopper star Paul Teutul, Sr. also worked hard and called in favors from friends, inevitably winning the challenge and raising an even more impressive $332,120 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, primarily through the generous donation of one particular donor, restauranteer Carlos Urbaneja, who wrote a check for $305,000. The rest of the $27,120 was raised in the same manner that Team Forte raised their money for charity, through a few donations, big and small. In addition, the men's team also earned $35,000 from Rachel Ray who chose their sandwich to be superior in taste and presentation, earning them a total of $367,120.

Game over. Team Unanimous won fair and square and it was clear that one member of Team Forte would go home. Model and business entrepreneur Cheryl Tiegs admitted that this type of competition was not her cup of tea, and she left of her own accord.

However, in an odd maneuver, which I believe left a lot of us scratching our heads, Trump awarded the money raised by Team Forte, all $126,962 to Team Unanimous' charity, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, bringing their total to $494,120 and the money raised for the Wayuu Taya Foundation became, well... zero.

Broadway star Aubrey O'Day attempted to plead with Mr. Trump, asking him to turn over the donation that they raised for the Wayuu Taya Foundation to that charity. However, Trump cut her off, saying "No no, because I know what you're gonna say... and you really do have to give it to Paul, and also a great charity, Make-A-Wish."

However, is this even legal?

I believe it is neither ethical, nor legal, to raise money for one charity, then turn that money over to another. In fact, I believe this may technically be fraud.

Charitable giving is highly regulated by the IRS in order to prevent just anyone from claiming to be a non-profit. The percentage of a gift which becomes tax deductible varies by the type of charity. It is even on tape, that the donors believed that they were giving their money to the Wayuu Taya Foundation, and yet, their money has instead been turned over to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Even Make-A-Wish would probably find it difficult to accept a donation under such a premise. The cold hard cruel rules of the corporate world, which robs from Peter to pay Paul, cannot be applied here -- it is simply not correct.

The Trump Foundation itself should make good. They should pony up the missing money, all $126,962 to the Wayuu Taya Foundation, at no penalty to Make-A-Wish, nor toward Velasquez, nor toward any of the celebrity contestants, nor towards the NBC network.

It is the right thing to do. It is the ethical and legal thing to do.


  1. I agree. I don't see how it can be considered ethical. You run the risk that people will stop donating if their money goes to a charity they did not intend. I work for a non-profit. When we tell people that money donated is going to a particular fund, we have to make sure that, indeed, the money is used for that purpose. That's why we have separate accounts for different types of fundraising efforts.

  2. I agree with you that the way they do it seems wrong, but it's worth noting that this wasn't a surprise. On every season they've given all the money for each challenge to the winning team's charity.

  3. Why did Patricia lie then? lol She should have known this might happen...


What's your opinion?