Charity dropped from 'Three Cups of Tea' lawsuit

Image: Greg Mortenson, Mike Mullen
Greg Mortenson shows the locations of future village schools to U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the opening of Pushghar Village Girls School 60 miles north of Kabul in Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan, July 15, 2009.Department Of Defense Via Ap / Department of Defense
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Central Asia Institute, the Montana-based charity founded by "Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson, has been dropped from a lawsuit accusing the author of fraud.

An amended complaint filed in federal court in Missoula on Friday eliminates both CAI and one of the original plaintiffs, Jean Price, from the lawsuit, CAI said in a statement Monday.

"We are bolstered by this news. CAI’s mission is better served without trial lawyers and the expense of litigation," said Anne Beyersdorfer, CAI’s interim executive director.

But Great Falls attorney Alexander "Zander" Blewett, who is representing the remaining two plaintiffs, Michele Reinhart and Dan Donovan, said CAI was dropped from the lawsuit only because the state attorney general is already looking into the nonprofit organization.

"We conferred with them and they contend they are the only entity that can proceed against CAI for any wrongdoing on charitable monies," Blewett said Tuesday. He added that Price was dropped as a plaintiff because she was only a donor and didn't buy Mortenson's book.

Mortenson, bedeviled by allegations of fraud raised in a "60 Minutes" report in April, is recovering from open-heart surgery. The Bozeman native underwent the operation earlier this month at an out-of-state hospital after doctors discovered an aneurysm and a hole in his heart.

Mortenson is co-founder and executive director of the Central Asia Institute. He is recuperating back in Montana and is under doctors' orders to rest, Beyersdorfer, a family friend who is running the charity in Mortenson's absence, told on Tuesday.

Beyersdorfer declined to reveal Mortenson's current location.

Meanwhile, efforts to start a class-action lawsuit against Mortenson now include Illinois.

Former teacher Deborah Netter of Lake County filed suit seeking damages and class-action status this month in Illinois federal court against Mortenson, his co-author and publisher.

The lawsuits in Illinois and Montana cite media reports from "60 Minutes" and author Jon Krakauer alleging Mortenson lied in the best-selling book about how he became involved in building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The book claims he became 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. Released in 2006, the book sold more than 3 million copies.

According to the Illinois lawsuit, Netter wants compensation "for herself and all other individuals or entities, who purchased 'Three Cups of Tea' and did not get what they paid for, but instead, were wrongly induced by each of the defendants to buy a phony and fictional story as opposed to the truth."

Mortenson has previously denied any wrongdoing, though he has admitted some of the events in his book were compressed in time. Publisher Penguin Books said it had no comment on the lawsuit.

Along with class-action status, the lawsuit filed in Illinois also seeks damages and attorney's fees.

The Illinois lawsuit closely mirrors the one filed in Montana last month by Blewett on behalf of Reinhart and Price, who are state representatives, and Donovan, who is an attorney.

The Montana lawsuit alleges fraud, deceit, breach of contract and negligent representation by Mortenson, his agent, and his publisher, Penguin.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, says people were duped into buying "Three Cups of Tea" and Mortenson's follow-up book, "Stones Into Schools," and donating to his charity based on lies.