HELENA, Mont. — Claims that Greg Mortenson committed fraud by fabricating events in his books "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools" are groundless, the author's attorneys said Friday.
Attorneys John Kauffman and Kevin Maclay asked a U.S. district judge in Missoula to reject certifying three plaintiffs' $5 million class-action lawsuit against Mortenson over what the plaintiffs say are false depictions of Mortenson's humanitarian work in Central Asia.
Former teacher Deborah Netter of Illinois and Montana residents Michele Reinhart and Dan Donovan claim that Mortenson duped 4 million people into buying his books by portraying events in them as true when they weren't, all for the purpose of making Mortenson a hero and to raise money.
The plaintiffs are asking Judge Donald Molloy to certify their class-action lawsuit and place all the money from Mortenson book purchases, which they estimate to be more than $5 million, into a trust to be used for humanitarian purposes.
The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit after published reports this spring by "60 Minutes" and author Jon Krakauer alleged that Mortenson lied in the books about how he became involved in building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan and other events depicted as true.
The reports also questioned whether Mortenson financially benefited from his charity, Central Asia Institute, and whether CAI built the number of schools it claimed.
Mortenson has previously denied any wrongdoing, though he has admitted some of the events in his "Three Cups of Tea" were compressed over different periods of time. Since then, he has declined to comment on the allegations and later in the spring underwent open-heart surgery.
In their response filed Friday with the U.S. District Court in Missoula, Kauffman and Maclay never explicitly say that all the events in Mortenson wrote about in the books are true.
They say the lawsuit should be thrown out because the plaintiffs can't identify any false statements or misrepresentations in his books.
Also, the plaintiffs can't say that all 4 million people bought the books for the same reason, something they need to prove to turn their claim into a class-action lawsuit, Mortenson's attorneys argue. Why someone buys a book is different from person to person, and may not be the same reason why the plaintiffs bought theirs, they said.
"They cannot demonstrate that an identifiable group of people has experienced any wrongdoing, let alone the same wrongdoing," the document says.
A hearing in the case has been scheduled for next month in Missoula.
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