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April 14, 2012

Greg Mortenson, Author of 'Three Cups of Tea,' Avoids Criminal Charges, Settles Montana Attorney General's Lawsuit

Something I missed from last week. Remember this guy? He is the author of Three Cups of Tea, and he was running a charity called the Central Asia Institute. There was a pretty damning 60 Minutes segment (below the fold) about him misusing funds meant to build schools. The report made him out to be a brazen liar and a slick, unempathetic, self-promoting opportunist. He also appeared to be using charity resources to promote his book, the proceeds of which he kept as personal income.

The Montana Attorney General, Steve Bullock, had elected to pursue a civil investigation and lawsuit, as he explained in this letter of clarification to Here & Now, a radio show that had originally reported Bullock was "considering possible criminal fraud charges."

“Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock’s office is conducting a civil investigation into nonprofit governance issues concerning the board and management of CAI. This includes reviewing allegations of improper financial benefit to Greg Mortenson through the royalties, speaking fees, and travel reimbursements associated with the books Mr. Mortenson wrote, as well as financial oversight of the nonprofit by Mortenson and its board of directors.

The investigation is not focused on determining the truth of information included in Mr. Mortenson’s books or whether that amounted to fraud.

The investigation of CAI and Mr. Mortenson is a high priority for this office, and we expect to make public the results of our investigation sometime in mid-March.”

(Emphasis added.) One would think that the part of the statement in bold would indicate there was a possibility of a criminal action at a later time, but the case was settled, and I assume the settlement precludes the filing of criminal charges. Indeed, the AP story below, the AG essentially admits he cannot prove criminal intent.

According to the Montana Attorney General, "since 2006 the charity spent $4.9 million advertising Mortenson's two books and $4 million buying copies of them to give away to schools and libraries." How creepy is that?

From the Associated Press:

Greg Mortenson will remain the face of the charity he co-founded, despite his having to repay $1 million after an investigative report released Thursday concluded he mismanaged the organization and misspent its money.

Central Asia Institute Interim Executive Director Anne Beyersdorfer said Mortenson will continue to draw a salary from the charity. But it won't be as executive director and he is barred from being a voting member of the board of directors as long as he is still employed by the organization.

A new title has not been created for the mountaineer and humanitarian, but he will continue to represent the organization in speaking engagements and work to build relationships in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the charity builds schools and promotes education, she said.

. . .

"Mr. Mortenson may not have intentionally deceived the board or his employees, but his disregard for and attitude about basic record keeping and accounting for his activities essentially had the same effect," Attorney General Steve Bullock said.

So it appears there were enough problems proving intent that the AG didn't want to gamble on criminal charges and restitution. Too bad. Mortenson strikes me as nothing more than a clever flimflam man--an especially pernicious variety, one who takes advantage of peoples' desire to help others.

You can see a complete copy of the Montana Attorney General's office investigative report here. CBS updated its story here.

Added: Steve Bullock is a Democrat, and he's running for governor. Thanks to commenter "free tibet-with purchase of - aww- you know the rest" for that information.

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posted by rdbrewer at 11:56 AM

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