Two Montana state legislators have filed suit in federal court against author and philanthropist Greg Mortenson, demanding that donations and proceeds from his book “Three Cups of Tea” be seized by the courts and placed in a trust for construction of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The petition to certify a nationwide class action against Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute is the latest fallout from allegations that his best-selling book contained significant misrepresentations of how Mortenson came to launch his school-building charity, and from revelations suggesting that proceeds from the book went to Mortenson, not the charity.
The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Montana by two Democratic state legislators, Michele Reinhart of Missoula and Jean Price of Great Falls. They said they were moved to buy Mortenson’s book and donate to his institute because they believed the published accounts, which included being kidnapped by the Taliban, were true.
The 2006 book sold more than 4 million copies. Author Jon Krakauer and the CBS news program “60 Minutes” said their research showed that some of the central anecdotes recounted in the book — including Mortenson’s story of recuperating from a failed ascent of Pakistan’s K2 in the small village where he went on to build his first school — did not happen as he described them in the book and in numerous public appearances around the world.
“The law says you cannot make misrepresentations, you cannot tell somebody something’s true and have them buy your book and make donations to your institute, when in fact it’s not true. That’s covered by fraud, deceit, unjust enrichment, many parts of the law,” said the legislators’ attorney, Alexander Blewitt III.
Mortenson has said that the book is substantially true but that some of the incidents were rearranged.
Institute spokeswoman Anne Beyersdorfer said the philanthropy welcomed the opportunity to respond to the allegations in a neutral forum such as the courts.
“Greg Mortenson stands by the events in both of his books,” she said. “Central Asia Institute empowers communities of Central Asia through literacy and education, especially for girls; promotes peace through education; and conveys the importance of these activities globally.”
“Let the jurors listen to Mortenson testify under oath and see if they believe what he’s saying,” Blewitt said. “We’re going to give him that opportunity.”