THREE CUPS OF DECEIT: Greg Mortenson Sued, Could Face Class Action Suit


The latest in the Greg Mortenson saga: The Three Cups of Tea author and his Central Asia Institute could be facing a class action lawsuit accusing him of fraud, deceit, and civil racketeering.

One plaintiff in the case wants her donation back; the other, the $12 she spent on her book.

The suit, filed by Missoula Montana state Democratic legislators, comes weeks after Mortenson came under fire during a 60 Minutes piece and because of a book written by Jon Krakauer.

According to sources in those stories, Mortenson distorted or flat out lied about details in his book that led him to start a charity that builds schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Additionally, both the television program and the author accused Mortenson of using CAI funds as his “personal ATM machine.”

According to the Daily Beast story with news of the suit, if it “does get class-action status, it raises the possibility that Mortenson and his foundation — should they eventually be found liable — could be on the hook for millions of dollars.”

So great, except that is not really the point.

Throughout the entire process, those closest to the story — 60 Minutes, Krakauer, Mortenson’s other detractors — have pointed out that Mortenson and CAI did do great work in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They built schools. They educated kids. They brought learning to some of the worst regions on earth.

And yes, some of the details in Three Cups were stretched or false. And some of the money seems to have been misused.

But the goal here should not be to ruin Mortenson; it should be to be to clean up his operation and allow it to do more. (And, almost certainly, remove him from a leadership role.)

I’m not sure how much a class action suit helps that end, even if it does ask that “any damages awarded be funneled to a trust that can use the money to build schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Further harm to Mortenson’s credibility only hurts the ability of the CAI to raise funds. And — assuming the organisation is cleaned up, becomes more transparent, and uses money raised in the future for good (not as an ATM) — forcing CAI to pay off a multi-million dollar settlement doesn’t make much sense.

Christopher Keyes — editor of Outside Magazine, which has covered the story from the beginning — tweeted the following Friday afternoon: “Grandstanding by two politicians, or the latest nail in the coffin for Mortenson?”

He is right to question the motives. The optimist in me hopes it is the latter; the realist thinks it’s the former.

Statements like this make me worry: “Mortenson and CAI should be forced to disgorge the purchase price because Michele Reinhart would not have purchased the book Three Cups of Tea had she known that Mortenson’s public statements and books were based on fabricated information.”