Video: Author defends ‘Three Cups of Tea’ memoir

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    >> author and humanitarian is under fire amid allegations that he fabricated stories his memoir. andrea mitchell has the latest details. good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning, meredith. the questions are being asked about greg mortenson , author of "three cups of tea" who has sold millions of books about his work with girls in afghanistan . he's been the hero of the movement to educate girls in afghanistan and pakistan. soldiers deploying to afghanistan are encouraged to read his book. president obama donated part of his nobel prize money to the charity. mike mullen traveled with him and tells the story of the dramatic attempt to climb k-2 and the pledge to his rescuers.

    >> he looked for a way to repay his rescuers and realized what they wanted and needed most was a school.

    >> reporter: it is a story mortonsen told again to natalie morales on "today.."

    >> coming off the mountain i stumbled into a village and saw 78 children sitting in the dirt writing with sticks in the sand. i promised to build a school.

    >> reporter: as "60 minutes" reported he didn't hear of the village until his second visit a year after the climb. he was not kidnapped by the taliban . he did build schools but critics say not as many as he claimed. author john krakauer donated to the charity until he got suspicion writing, he's lied about the deeds he's done, the people he met, the number of schools he built. a watchdog group says the charity paid for charter planes and other questionable expenses.

    >> in 15 years they have had only one audited financial statement which came out last fall.

    >> reporter: mortonson is now ducking television articles.

    >> i need to sign these books now.

    >> reporter: he told "outside" magazine, there were some omissions and compressions. there are discrepancies that, again, have to do with compression of events. acknowledging he took literary license.

    >> the standards for nonfiction are clear. you don't compress to the point of telling a story that isn't true relative to what happened. that happened in this case.

    >> reporter: nbc news learned there could be a problem with his second book "stones into schools kwl schools" also a book seller in which he describes this man as a former taliban fighter. when nbc news interviewed him two years ago we could not verify his taliban connection so didn't broadcast the story. other advocates for afghan girls worry the issue will hurt the cause.

    >> the issue of girls' education is more important than any one individual.

    >> reporter: mortonson says the critics are inaccurate but his publisher issued a statement saying they will review the materials with the author. meredith?

    >> thank you very much. just

updated 4/19/2011 9:02:37 PM ET 2011-04-20T01:02:37

The attorney general in the state of Montana launched an inquiry Tuesday into the charity run by "Three Cups of Tea" co-author Greg Mortenson after reports questioned whether Mortenson benefited from money donated to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Attorney General Steve Bullock's statement Tuesday to The Associated Press follows investigations by "60 Minutes" and author Jon Krakauer into inaccuracies in the book and how money donated to the Montana-based Central Asia Institute was spent.

"Three Cups of Tea" was released in 2006 and sold more than 3 million copies. That notoriety helped Mortenson grow the Central Asia Institute by generating more than $50 million in donations, Krakauer said.

Story: ‘Three Cups of Tea’ inaccurate? Author speaks out

According to the charity's website, it has "successfully established over 170 schools" and helped educate over 68,000 students, with an emphasis on girls' education."

Bullock oversees non-profit corporations operating in the state. He has been in contact with attorneys for the agency, and they have pledged their full cooperation, he said.

"While looking into this issue, my office will not jump to any conclusions — but we have a responsibility to make sure charitable assets are used for their intended purposes," he said in the statement.

Bullock spokesman Kevin O'Brien said the inquiry has not reached the level of a full-scale investigation and it was not immediately clear exactly what Bullock was seeking.

Krakauer, author of "Into the Wild," cast doubt on Mortenson's story of being lost in 1993 while mountain climbing in rural Pakistan and stumbling upon the village of Korphe, where the residents helped him recuperate and he promised to build a school. Krakauer called it a "myth."

"Mortenson has lied about the noble deeds he has done, the risks he has taken, the people he has met, the number of schools he has built," Krakauer wrote in the recently published "Three Cups of Deceit."

Krakauer reported that millions of dollars donated to the charity were spent on chartered jets, equipment and advertising for Mortenson's books, even though the charity doesn't receive any royalties for them. One former Central Asia Institute board member told Krakauer that Mortenson "regards CAI as his personal ATM."

Mortenson and officials with the charity did not return calls and emails for comment on Tuesday.

Image: Greg Mortenson
St. Paul Pioneer Press via AP file
Greg Mortenson, author of "Three Cups of Tea," has come under scrutiny over operations of his charity.

Tax information filed with the Internal Revenue Service for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009, the most recent available, put the charity's expenses at $9.7 million. Of that, $3.9 million — about 41 percent — was spent on building materials, teacher salaries, scholarships and other expenses related to school building.

Video: Author defends ‘Three Cups of Tea’ memoir (on this page)

A larger amount, $4.6 million, was spent on what was described in the tax documents as "domestic outreach and education" and "lectures and guest appearances across the United States." Mortenson, who is the Central Asia Institute's executive director and a board member, received $180,747 in compensation that year.

More than $1.5 million of the charity's expenses went to advertising and marketing Mortenson's books.

In a recent interview with Outside magazine, Mortenson said he had done nothing wrong and that much of that money goes toward educating people in the U.S. about the need for the schools.

"Our education mission includes both educating young people in Pakistan and Afghanistan — especially girls — and educating the American public about how promoting education in these countries contributes to peace," he told the magazine.

But, Mortenson added, the Central Asia Institute's law firm produced an internal memo that he might be found in violation of IRS regulations regarding excess benefits if the Central Asia Institute were audited.

Mortenson hired an outside law firm in January to conduct an independent analysis of the charity. The firm concluded he had done nothing wrong, but recommended there be specific changes to separate Mortenson in some respects from the charity, he said.

Mortenson said he has been paying for all of his own travel since January, and the charter flights allowed him to pack more speaking engagements in.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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