'Three Cups' author was overwhelmed by lawsuit
HELENA — "Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson says the dismissal of a civil lawsuit that accused him of fabricating book passages to make money for himself and his charity confirms his faith in the U.S. justice system.
Mortenson told The Associated Press in an email Monday that he has been overwhelmed at times dealing with the lawsuit, a Montana investigation into the Central Asia Institute and surgery to repair a small hole in his heart.
"At times, facing so much was overwhelming and devastating, however, my attorneys always offered steadfast encouragement to stay positive and keep the high ground, even when subjected to false allegations, vicious name-calling and slander," Mortenson said.
U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon rejected the civil lawsuit Monday, dismissing claims that Mortenson, his publisher, his co-author and his charity conspired to make Mortenson into a false hero to sell books and raise money for the charity. Haddon called the claims overly broad, flimsy and speculative.
The ruling is good news for Mortenson and his charity after Montana's attorney general earlier in April announced a $1 million agreement to settle claims that Mortenson mismanaged the institute and misspent its funds. The agreement removes Mortenson from any financial oversight and overhauls the charity's structure, but it does not address the books' contents.
Mortenson, who was traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan on Monday, declined a telephone interview. He said in his email, his first public statement in more than a year, that the judge's ruling "upholds and confirms my belief and faith that our American legal and judicial system is honorable and fair."
The Central Asia Institute, which he co-founded in 1996 to build schools in Central Asia, "is stronger than ever, and we will continue to work hard to serve our mission, uphold transparency and instill good governance," he said.
The lawsuit by four people who bought Mortenson's books claimed they bought the books because they were labeled as nonfiction accounts of how Mortenson came to build schools in Central Asia. Their lawsuit alleged fraud, deceit, racketeering and breach of contract against Mortenson, publisher Penguin Group (USA), co-author David Oliver Relin and the Central Asia Institute.
They had asked Haddon to order the defendants account for all the money collected from Mortenson's book sales, refund readers who come forward and send the rest of the cash to a humanitarian organization to be decided by the plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs' attorneys in Montana and Chicago did not return messages for comment.
Haddon did not address allegations of fabrications in the book, but wrote that the plaintiffs can't simply rely on general allegations of lies in making a fraud claim.
Penguin last year had said it would conduct its own investigation into whether "Three Cups of Tea" and the best-selling sequel "Stones Into Schools" contained fabrications, but said Monday that probe has not happened.
"Once the lawsuit was filed it was impossible to conduct our own investigation into the matter as all parties were represented by lawyers," Penguin spokeswoman Carolyn Coleburn said in statement Monday. "Because of attorney-client privilege and other issues, we had no choice but to let the facts develop within the context of the legal proceeding."
Jon Krakauer, writing on his blog in Byliner.com, said while judge determined there was no reason to consider the allegations that Mortenson fabricated passages, the lawsuit's dismissal frees Mortenson to speak for himself.
"Many of us are very much looking forward to hearing what he has to say," Krakauer wrote.
"Three Cups of Tea," which has sold about 4 million copies since being published in 2006, was conceived as a way to raise money and tell the story of his institute, founded by Mortenson in 1996.
The book and promotion of the charity by Mortenson, who appeared at more than 500 speaking engagements in four years, resulted in tens of millions of dollars in donations.
The book recounts how Mortenson lost his way after a failed mountaineering expedition and was nursed back to health in a Pakistani village. Based on the villagers' kindness and the poverty he saw, he resolved to build a school for them.
The lawsuit claimed, as did reporting by Krakauer and "60 Minutes," that Mortenson fabricated that story and others in the book and in "Stones Into Schools."
Mortenson has denied any wrongdoing, though he has previously acknowledged some of the events in "Three Cups of Tea" were compressed over different periods of time.
The yearlong state investigation found that Mortenson's poor record keeping and personnel management resulted in unknown amounts of cash spent overseas or for management costs without receipts or documentation.
CAI promoted Mortenson's books for free, paid for his charter flights and the organization bought thousands of copies of his books to give away, without seeing any royalties, the state found.
Anne Beyersdorfer, CAI's interim executive director, has said Mortenson will remain the face of the charity but not as executive director, and that he is barred from being a voting member of the board of directors as long as he draws a paycheck from CAI.