Monday, May 09, 2011

Greg Mortenson, CAI Slapped With Class Action Lawsuit, Offer Up A Defense


As the Greg Mortenson/Tree Cups of Tea controversy continues to play out, there were two new developments late last week, that come to us courtesy of Outside Online, who have been doing an outstanding job of keeping the news coming from both sides of the discussion.

First up, on Friday, a class action lawsuit was filed against Mortenson and his non-profit organization the Central Asia Institute, in Missoula, Montana. The suit, which was brought up by state legislators Jean Price and Michele Reinhart, contends that Mortenson and CAI defrauded donors, as well as people who have purchased his books, by fabricating stories about his experiences, with the intention of making money. The lawsuit also cites that this has been an ongoing, and continually perpetrated, act that has resulted in millions of dollars being donated to the cause by people who believed Mortenson's stories, which have been called into question on a number of fronts in recent weeks.

As Outside points out, the class action lawsuit spells even more trouble for the author and CAI, who are already under a criminal investigation for potential racketeering. In this latest suit, which you can read here, Price and Reinhart call for CAI to be suspended as an organization, and have its funds administered by a third party organization that would continue its charitable work in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But Mortenson and CAI have no intention of taking these allegations sitting down. In a separate story, Outside also noted that they have prepared a defense, which will be released in an annual report called "Journey of Hope." Typically, the report is released in November, and serves as a way of updating major sponsors and supports of CAI as to what is happening with the organization. But the 2011 edition of Journey of Hope is coming much sooner than that.

The newsletter gives few direct responses to the recent allegations against Mortentson and his charitable arm. Instead, it offers some broad defenses, and highlights the good things that CAI has planned for the  months ahead, including building as many as 60 new schools in Afghanistan this year alone, and launching a special education program designed for women and girls.

In the way of defense, the organization points to its 1996 charter in which it says that it not only will build schools but also do outreach programs to the public. One of the major charges against CAI is the millions it spends on promoting Mortenson and his books. It seems they are filing all of that under the very broad umbrella of public outreach. They also note that they've been the victim of embezzlement, which cost them a lot of money and failed to produce a number of schools, due in large part to a trusted, but highly corrupt employee.

All of this comes after 60 Minutes ran an expose on Mortenson a few weeks back, which questioned the truthfulness behind some of the stories in his books, and leveled allegations against the way that CAI is being managed and appropriating its funds. Since that time, there have been a number of people who have stepped forward to both defend and refute the author, who has admitted to taking some poetic license, at the very least, with some of his tales.

It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out in the long run. I've said it before when covering this topic, and I'll say it again. CAI has done a lot of great work in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it is sad to all of that overshadowed by these stories and allegations. Hopefully, at some point down the line, the non-profit can get back to doing what it was intended to do, without dark clouds looming over head.

5 comments:

Marc Krejci said...

Thank you so much for posting these updates! Like many, I got wrapped up in the sensationalism of this story when it came to light. After stepping away from all of the drama, it's nice to read a simple synopsis of where it stands to date.

I believe in transparancy, and that non-profit organizations should be held accountible for their actions. Despite wether the stories are true or not, I also believe CAI has done at least some good work in the past and hope this incident will help them refocus their efforts into doing more good.

FiveSix said...

"""""The lawsuit also cites that this has been an ongoing, and continually perpetrated, act that has resulted in millions of dollars being donated to the cause by people who believed Mortenson's stories, which have been called into question on a number of fronts in recent weeks.""""""
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Mortenson has done nothing worse than what many other mountaineers do every year. Especially record claimers, on Everest, and elsewhere in Himalaya and elsewhere. The do climbs in secret, boast about their times and summitings, yet have no summit photos or summit witnesses. They feed the media and create frienzy. They profit Profit from their stories. Make money and make reputation. The only differece is Mortenson appears caught. Christian Stangl was caught in 2010. Most others are not caught.

Anonymous said...

There are tons of mountaineers and "speed climbers" who do essentially the same thing. But are never caught. Why? They are incredibly crafty. Baffling. 1) They do the climbs usually in pure secrecy, 2) Rarely any summit photos, 3) Endless excuses, eg, "my camera broke" "it's an honor sport", 4) They have tons of other photos from basecamp and elsewhere, but none at the summit, 5) Many summit photos show NONE OF THE SUMMIT, just bizzarre, showing only the climber face up close, or a watch up close, 6) No witnesses at the summit or anywhere near the summit. Then like Mortenson they go to the major-media seeking notariety profit fame.

Mortenson, Stangl, Dr. Frederick Cook, are a few caught. There are many more very certainly. ?

Adventure Junkie said...

Lets try to keep the speed climbing issues out of discussions on Mortenson. They really aren't the same, and there are plenty of other places to talk about that topic.

Buzz said...

Yes, this definitely isn't about mountaineering claims - State Legislators didn't file a Class Action suit because he didn't hike where he said he hiked!

Marc said it well:
"I believe in transparancy, and that non-profit organizations should be held accountible for their actions."

Actually, that is the law. And it is a really good law, so that when elementary school kids donate their milk money here, they can be assured it actually goes where they were told it would go.

Expenses from the two books were paid by CAI while income from the two books went into Gregs private account. That isn't a "dark cloud". That is just plain wrong.