STING'S 'WASTE FOREST'
By ISABEL VINCENT
May 4, 2008 -- This is nothing to croon about.
Rock star Sting's celebrity-studded Carnegie Hall charity concert in 2006 to save the world's rainforests raked in millions, but less than half the riches actually funded tree-saving programs, according to charity watchdogs and a Post review of tax records.
It's one of the prime reasons the local arm of Sting's Rainforest Foundation is rated one of New York City's worst charities
, according to Charity Navigator.
The next in the series of annual Carnegie concerts takes place Thursday, and the lineup was scheduled to include Billy Joel, James Taylor and Brian Wilson.
The concert raises money for Sting's international charity, the Rainforest Foundation, and its US affiliate, Rainforest Foundation Inc., both housed in the same downtown Manhattan office.
Donors in the past have included Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks and billionaire Ron Perelman.
The 2006 concert - which drew Lenny Kravitz, Sheryl Crow and Will Ferrell to the landmark stage - raised $2,156,989, according to the latest available IRS tax filing.
Yet only $887,374 of the money raised, 41 percent, was divided among the charity's eight programs that support native-land claims and forest preservation in Latin America and Africa - a paltry percentage, according to agencies that monitor nonprofits.
A well-run charity, they said, typically spends 75 percent of revenues on programs.
"This one would fall to the bottom of the bucket," said Sandra Miniutti, a spokeswoman for Charity Navigator.
The watchdog - which rates 5,000 charities nationally based on management and fund-raising-to-giving ratios - has slapped Rainforest Foundation Inc. with a zero rating for each of the last four years
Another problem is the charity's apparent hoarding of donations. In 2006, it reported $10 million in net assets - including nearly $5 million in cash - to the IRS.
Efficient charities, the watchdogs said, rarely bank more than what is needed to pay a year's expenses.
"What are they doing with the money?"
said Bennett Weiner, the director of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, after examining the fund's tax forms. "They have more than five times what they would normally spend in a year in reserves."
There is also a potential problem with the foundation's reporting of the value of its concert tickets. The charity sold the tickets for between $100 and $600 but estimated the fair market value at a mere $45 per ticket. This allowed buyers to write off most of the ticket price as a donation.
"If the receipts are wrong, donors could face IRS audits," said James Dellinger, an analyst for Capital Research, a watchdog group based in Washington.
The charity was founded in 1989 by Sting, his wife, Trudie Styler, and Belgian photographer Jean Pierre Dutilleux. At the time, the activists made international headlines when they helped Brazilian natives establish a preserve in the Amazon rainforest.
Sting and Styler could not be reached for comment, and representatives for their two charities did not return repeated phone calls and e-mails.
When a Post reporter visited the downtown office last week, a receptionist said the entire staff was out attending a film festival.
Dutilleux, who left the organization in the early 1990s to work with rainforest charities in France and Belgium, has joined the chorus of critics.
"I have kept quiet for almost 20 years, hoping for improvement," he told The Post, referring to the allegations. "But enough is enough. Everything is true or worse."