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.
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