Three Cups of Deceit (Excerpt)

In this excerpt from the bestselling Byliner Original, Jon Krakauer investigates the alleged fabrications and fraud surrounding Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea. ALSO: Exclusive updates about the scandal.

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  1. Greg Mortenson doesn’t hide his light under a bushel. He makes more than 160 public appearances annually, in all parts of the country and abroad, and frequently appears in the news. For each of the past three years he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. President Obama donated $100,000 of the award money from his own Nobel Peace Prize, which he received in 2009, to the Central Asia Institute (CAI)—the charity Mortenson launched fifteen years ago to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Visiting classrooms wherever he goes, Mortenson has persuaded 2,800 American schools to become fundraising partners; last year, schoolkids collecting “Pennies for Peace” boosted CAI revenues by $2.5 million. All told, his vigorous promotion of the Greg Mortenson brand generated $23 million in donations to CAI in 2010 alone.

    On March 29 of this year, I attended a lecture Mortenson gave in Cheyenne, Wyoming. As he walked onto the stage in the sold-out arena, more than two thousand men, women, and children leapt to their feet to express their admiration with cheers, whistles, and deafening applause. “If we really want to help people, we have to empower people,” Mortenson pronounced. “And empowering people starts with education.” A book cover depicting Afghan girls engrossed in study was projected onto the screen above the stage. “So I wrote this book called Three Cups of Tea,” he deadpanned. “Some of you might have heard about it...”

    Laughter rippled through the crowd. Hoping to get an autograph from Mortenson, hundreds of fans were holding copies of his book, which had spent the previous four years and two months on the New York Times paperback nonfiction bestseller list, and showed every sign of remaining there well into the future. Some five million copies are now in print, including special editions for “young readers” and “very young readers” (kindergarten through fourth grade). Moreover, the multitudes who have bought Three Cups haven’t merely read it; they’ve embraced it with singular passion. Since its publication in 2006, people galvanized by this autobiographical account of Mortenson’s school-building adventures have donated more than $50 million to the Central Asia Institute. The book’s popularity stems from its forceful, uncomplicated theme—terrorism can be eradicated by educating children in impoverished societies—and its portrayal of Mortenson as a humble, Gandhi-like figure who has repeatedly risked life and limb to advance his humanitarian agenda.

    Told in the third person by Mortenson’s co-author, David Oliver Relin, Three Cups begins with Mortenson hiking down Pakistan’s Baltoro Glacier in September 1993, having failed to climb K2, the second-highest peak on earth. A trauma nurse by profession, he’d been invited to join an expedition to K2 to serve as the team medic. After two months of punishing effort, however, Mortenson realized he lacked the strength to reach the summit, so he abandoned his attempt and left the expedition early. Exhausted and dejected, the thirty-five-year-old mountaineer reached into a pocket as he trudged down the trail and “fingered the necklace of amber beads that his little sister Christa had often worn. As a three-year-old in Tanzania, where Mortenson’s Minnesota-born parents had been Lutheran missionaries and teachers, Christa had contracted acute meningitis and never fully recovered. Greg, twelve years her senior, had appointed himself her protector.”

    In July 1992, at age twenty-three, Christa had suffered a massive epileptic seizure, apparently stemming from her childhood health problems, and died. Ten months later, Mortenson had trekked into the Karakoram Range with Christa’s necklace, intending to leave it on K2’s 28,267-foot summit, which is considerably more difficult to reach than the crest of Mount Everest. Now the defeated Mortenson “wiped his eyes with his sleeve, disoriented by the unfamiliar tears.... After seventy-eight days of primal struggle at altitude on K2, he felt like a faint, shriveled caricature of himself.” He wasn’t even sure he had the strength to make it to Askole, the village at trail’s end, fifty miles down the valley.

    A week into his homeward trek through Baltistan, as this corner of Pakistan is known, Mortenson became separated from Mouzafer Ali, the Balti porter he had hired to carry his heavy backpack. Without Mouzafer’s guidance, Mortenson took a wrong turn and lost his way. A few hours later, he arrived at a village he assumed was Askole. As Mortenson walked into the settlement, a throng of local youngsters, fascinated by the tall foreigner, gathered around him. “By the time he reached the village’s ceremonial entrance...he was leading a procession of fifty children.”

    Just beyond, Mortenson was greeted warmly by “a wizened old man, with features so strong they might have been carved out of the canyon walls.” His name was Haji Ali, the village chieftain. He led Mortenson to his stone hut, “placed cushions at the spot of honor closest to the open hearth, and installed Mortenson there.... When Mortenson looked up, he saw the eyes of the fifty children who had followed him,” peering down from a large square opening in the roof. “Here, warm by the hearth, on soft pillows, snug in the crush of so much humanity, he felt the exhaustion he’d been holding at arm’s length surge up over him.”

    At that moment, though, Haji Ali revealed to Mortenson that he wasn’t in Askole, as the American believed. Owing to his wrong turn, he’d blundered into a village called Korphe. “Adrenaline snapped Mortenson back upright. He’d never heard of Korphe.... Rousing himself, he explained that he had to get to Askole and meet a man named Mouzafer who was carrying all his belongings. Haji Ali gripped his guest by the shoulders with his powerful hands and pushed him back on the pillows.” Surrendering to fatigue, Mortenson closed his eyes and sank into a deep sleep.

    In Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson never indicates exactly how many days he spent in Korphe on that initial visit in 1993, but he implies it was a lengthy stay:

    From his base in Haji Ali’s home, Mortenson settled into a routine. Each morning and afternoon he would walk briefly about Korphe, accompanied, as always, by children tugging at his hands…. Off the Baltoro, out of danger, he realized just how precious his own survival had been, and how weakened he’d become. He could barely make it down the switchback path that led to the river…. Wheezing his way back up to the village, he felt as infirm as the elderly men who sat for hours at a time under Korphe’s apricot trees, smoking from hookahs and eating apricot kernels. After an hour or two of poking about each day he’d succumb to exhaustion and return to stare at the sky from his nest of pillows by Haji Ali’s hearth.

    During his protracted recuperation in Korphe, Mortenson became aware of the Baltis’ poverty, and “how close they lived to hunger.” He noticed the widespread malnutrition and disease, and learned that one out of every three Korphe children perished before their first birthday. “Mortenson couldn’t imagine discharging the debt he felt to his hosts in Korphe. But he was determined to try.” He gave away most of his possessions, including his camping stove and warm expedition clothing.

    Each day, as he grew stronger, he spent long hours climbing the steep paths between Korphe’s homes, doing what little he could to beat back the avalanche of need…. He set broken bones and did what little he could with painkillers and antibiotics. Word of his work spread and the sick on the outskirts of Korphe began sending relatives to fetch “Dr. Greg,” as he would thereafter be known in northern Pakistan….

    Often during his time in Korphe, Mortenson felt the presence of his little sister Christa, especially when he was with Korphe’s children…. They reminded [him] of the way Christa had to fight for the simplest things. Also the way she had of just persevering, no matter what life threw at her. He decided he wanted to do something for them…. Lying by the hearth before bed, Mortenson told Haji Ali he wanted to visit Korphe’s school.

    The following morning, “after their familiar breakfast of chapattis and cha,”

    Haji Ali led Mortenson up a steep path to a vast open ledge…. He was appalled to see eighty-two children, seventy-eight boys and the four girls who had the pluck to join them, kneeling in the frosty ground, in the open. Haji Ali, avoiding Mortenson’s eyes, said that the village had no school, and the Pakistani government didn’t provide a teacher…. Mortenson watched, his heart in his throat, as the students stood at rigid attention and began their ‘school day’ with Pakistan’s national anthem…. After the last note of the anthem had faded, the children sat in a neat circle and began copying their multiplication tables. Most scratched in the dirt with a stick they’d brought for that purpose.

    “I felt like my heart was being torn out,” Mortenson declares in this passage. “There was a fierceness in their desire to learn, despite how mightily everything was stacked against them, that reminded me of Christa. I knew I had to do something.” As Mortenson stood beside Haji Ali that crisp autumn morning, gazing up at the towering peaks of the Karakoram,

    climbing K2 to place a necklace on its summit suddenly felt beside the point. There was a much more meaningful gesture he could make in honor of his sister’s memory. He put his hands on Haji Ali’s shoulders, as the old man had done to him dozens of times since they’d shared their first cup of tea. “I’m going to build you a school,” he said, not yet realizing that with those words, the path of his life had just detoured down another trail, a route far more serpentine and arduous than the wrong turns he’d taken since retreating from K2. “I will build a school,” Mortenson said. “I promise.”

    This, in Mortenson’s dramatic telling, is how he came to dedicate his life to building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He devotes nearly a third of the book to this transformative experience, which he says occurred in September 1993. It’s a compelling creation myth, one that he has repeated in thousands of public appearances and media interviews. The problem is, it’s precisely that: a myth.

    Mortenson didn’t really stumble into Korphe after taking a wrong turn on his way down from K2. He wasn’t lovingly nursed back to health in the home of Haji Ali. He set no villagers’ broken bones. On that crisp September morning, shortly before returning to America, Mortenson did not put his hands on Haji Ali’s shoulders and promise to build a school. In fact, Mortenson would not even make the acquaintance of Haji Ali, or anyone else in Korphe, until more than a year later, in October 1994, under entirely different circumstances.

    The first eight chapters of Three Cups of Tea are an intricately wrought work of fiction presented as fact. And by no means was this an isolated act of deceit. It turns out that Mortenson’s books and public statements are permeated with falsehoods. The image of Mortenson that has been created for public consumption is an artifact born of fantasy, audacity, and an apparently insatiable hunger for esteem. Mortenson has lied about the noble deeds he has done, the risks he has taken, the people he has met, the number of schools he has built. Three Cups of Tea has much in common with A Million Little Pieces, the infamous autobiography by James Frey that was exposed as a sham. But Frey, unlike Mortenson, didn’t use his phony memoir to solicit tens of millions of dollars in donations from unsuspecting readers, myself among them. Moreover, Mortenson’s charity, the Central Asia Institute, has issued fraudulent financial statements, and he has misused millions of dollars donated by schoolchildren and other trusting devotees. “Greg,” says a former treasurer of the organization’s board of directors, “regards CAI as his personal ATM.”

    ***

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  1. Greg Mortenson’s “Dirty Dozen” Turn Out to be Dirtier Than Mortenson Divulged

    In addition to forcing Greg Mortenson to pay the Central Asia Institute more than $1 million to cover the funds he’d skimmed from the charity, in April 2012 the Montana Attorney General ordered CAI to expand its board of directors. (At the time of the Attorney General’s investigation, the board consisted of just Mortenson and two acquiescent devotees.) In July 2012, seven directors were added to the board, and they appear to be genuinely committed to reforming CAI from the ground up. Under the leadership of newly elected chairman Steve Barrett—a principled, highly respected Montana attorney—I’m guardedly optimistic that the board will eventually transform CAI into a trustworthy and effective organization

    That’s the good news. The bad news? Overhauling CAI is going to be vastly harder than Barrett or anyone else on the revamped board imagined. These grim tidings were recently delivered by a reputable Pakistani accounting firm, HLB Ijaz Tabussum & Co., which CAI hired in the aftermath of the Attorney General’s investigation to conduct an audit of the charity’s overseas activities. The HLB auditors’ report, completed in late 2012, reveals that CAI’s foreign operations are plagued by widespread corruption, including acts of major fraud by CAI program managers. Thanks to appallingly lax oversight while Mortenson was at the helm, many hundreds of thousands of dollars—perhaps millions—have been squandered or embezzled by some of the charity’s Afghan and Pakistani staff.

    In his bestselling memoirs, Mortenson repeatedly sings the praises of his handpicked team of foreign employees. In Stones into Schools (the sequel to Three Cups of Tea) Mortenson confides,

    I often refer to this group as the Dirty Dozen because so many of them are renegades and misfits—men of unrecognized talents who struggled for years to find their place and whose former employers greeted much of their energy and enthusiasm with indifference or condescension. But inside the loose and seemingly disorganized structure of the CAI, they have found a way to harness their untapped resourcefulness and make a difference in their communities.

    Problem is, several of the Dirty Dozen harnessed their untapped resourcefulness to steal a huge pile of money from CAI. The HLB audit makes clear that embezzling from the charity was ridiculously easy because nobody from CAI’s American office was monitoring how CAI funds were spent. As an ex-employee told me, “Greg was accountable to no one, and the staff overseas were accountable to only Greg, but he never held them accountable to anything. Ever. He never checked their books, never asked for receipts.”

    It’s hard to make sense of this glaring lapse. It might be explained to some degree by incompetence. But it also seems to be at least partly attributable to the fact that Mortenson had secrets of his own that he wanted to keep hidden, so he actively discouraged his American staff from looking too closely at certain aspects of CAI’s overseas activities. As the ex-CAI staffer put it, “Greg did not like people discovering things.”

    Two months ago I asked CAI Executive Director Anne Beyersdorfer to post the HLB audit on the CAI website, in accordance with numerous public assurances she’s made about CAI’s new commitment to transparency. I asked again last month, but the audit still has not been publicly released, prompting me to post what I know about the audit on Byliner. Although I have not seen the entire HLB report, significant portions of it (along with numerous corroborating documents) were sent to me by whistleblowers frustrated over Mortenson’s failure to take action against corrupt CAI program managers. Among the transgressions revealed by these whistleblowers was an expense of 4 million Pakistani rupees (approximately $41,300) claimed by CAI Community Program Director Saidullah Baig to build a security wall around the Diamond Jubilee Middle School in the remote Pakistani village of Passu; when an HLB auditor visited the school, he discovered the wall did not exist.

    The most brazen and prodigious swindler exposed in the portions of the HLB audit I’ve seen, however, is Mortenson’s pal and confidante, Lieutenant Colonel Ilyas Ahmed Mirza, whose name will be familiar to readers of Mortenson’s memoirs. Here is how the retired Pakistani Army aviation officer is described upon making his first appearance in the pages of Three Cups of Tea:

    Ilyas was tall and dashing in the way Hollywood imagines its heroes. His black hair silvered precisely at the temples of his chiseled face. Otherwise he looked much like he had as young man, when he served as one of his country’s finest combat pilots. Ilyas was also a Wazir, from Bannu, the settlement Mortenson had passed through just before his kidnapping, and the colonel’s knowledge of how Mortenson had been treated by his tribe at first made him determined to see that no further harm befell his American friend.

    Mortenson and Ilyas have been friends for more than a decade. In late 2009 or early 2010, Mortenson hired Ilyas to be CAI’s “Pakistan Chief Operations Director,” a position for which he presently receives an annual salary of $42,000. Ilyas was given the job as part of a long-range plan that would allow Mortenson to resign from CAI, take CAI’s lucrative “Pennies for Peace” program along with him, and run P4P as an independently registered, stand-alone nonprofit. Emails from Mortenson to his staff confirm that he intended “to step away from CAI… and find others to keep the flame alive.” Toward that end, shortly after Mortenson hired Ilyas, he created a pair of independent nonprofit foundations that he registered in Kabul to conduct CAI’s mission in Afghanistan. To carry out CAI’s work in Pakistan, Mortenson asked Ilyas to create an independent trust instead of a nonprofit foundation, because a trust could be set up much faster and with much less red tape or oversight.

    Ilyas registered the Central Asia Institute Trust in Islamabad on November 24, 2010. It’s hard to believe that Mortenson or anyone else in the United States read the trust deed before the trust was a done deal. If the document had been vetted beforehand, it would have quickly become apparent that the trust appears to have been deliberately structured to allow Ilyas to embezzle from it with impunity.

    Ilyas and his wife, Talat, are the sole trustees, giving them complete control of the trust and all CAI funds that pass through it. According to the HLB auditors, “Separate bank accounts for the funds of CAI-USA [i.e., money sent from CAI’s American headquarters] are not being maintained. [Funds from CAI-USA] are directly transferred in personal account of Chief Operations Director [Ilyas]. Non-maintenance of separate bank accounts implies weakness of controls that may result in embezzlement of funds.” Indeed, on November 10, 2010—just two weeks after the trust was created—Ilyas paid himself a $50,000 “hiring bonus.”

    Below is a partial list of the irregularities described in the HLB auditors’ report and other documents provided to me:

    • A lavish Islamabad home purchased with CAI funds before the trust was created was sold by Ilyas for 47 million Pakistani rupees (approximately $486,000). All the money from this sale was deposited in Ilyas’ personal bank account. Ilyas refused to show auditors any documents related to the sale of this home.

    • A single payment of $14,000 to the Faheem Elementary School for teachers’ salaries was claimed in the books of both Ilyas and another CAI program director, Suleman Minhas. One of the men (or possibly both) pocketed fourteen grand.

    • On September 30, 2011, Ilyas redeemed a CAI certificate of deposit for $42,000 in cash, which, according to the trust accountant, he used for personal expenses.

    • An invoice from a Pakistani air charter company called Princely Jets shows that on January 16 and 17, 2012, the trust spent $14,210 to charter a private jet to fly Ilyas from Islamabad to Dera Ismail Khan, then to Bannu, and then back to Islamabad. On January 17, the same day that Ilyas returned to Islamabad from Bannu, other invoices show that the trust spent an additional $14,532 on two separate, round-trip helicopter flights between Islamabad and Bannu. The helicopters were hired from Askari Aviation—a helicopter charter company in which Ilyas has had a longstanding business interest. The trust, in other words, inexplicably spent $28,742 on three separate charter flights between Islamabad and Bannu in the same two-day time period.

    • According to the HLB report, “Contracts for the construction of colleges and schools were awarded [by Ilyas] without following any open bidding process, thus the opportunities of most economical constructions have not been availed.”

    • The trust pays Ilyas’ brother Idrees a salary of $48,000 per year to travel from Islamabad to Bannu once a month to “supervise” construction of a $700,000 library at the University of Science and Technology. The trust also pays the salaries of several of Ilyas’ cousins and cronies to work at the UST library project, but they appear to do little actual work.

    • The trust pays the salary of a cook, Nadeem, at Ilyas’ personal residence, and the salaries of four drivers—Javaid, Rauf, Mushtaq, and Shakeel—to chauffeur Ilyas, his wife, and his daughter around Pakistan in three vehicles purchased with CAI funds. Two of the vehicles are registered in the name of the CAI Pakistan trust; one is registered in the name of Ilyas.

    • The trust provides scholarships to relatives of Ilyas and relatives of Ilyas’ buddies. The trust also provides scholarship funds to a girl named Zainab Farhat who is the daughter of a government employee; this scholarship appears to be a thinly disguised bribe.

    According to a prominent, frequently cited statement on the CAI website,

    Each one of Central Asia Institute’s projects is locally initiated and involves community participation. A committee of elders guides each selected project. Before a project starts, the community matches project funds with equal amounts of local resources and labor.

    The HLB audit indicates this statement has little, if any, basis in reality. According to the auditors’ report, “Selection of projects is at the sole discretion of Chief Operations Director [Ilyas] which raises the risks associated with lack of segregation of duty. There are no selection criteria… either for the selection of place for construction of schools/college or for providing support for it. Also the effectiveness of the projects is not measurable before or after the implementation.” The audit leaves no doubt that most, if not all, of the projects under the purview of Ilyas were implemented at his whim without community input, often with the primary aim of providing financial benefits to Ilyas, his relatives, and/or his friends.

    Although I have not seen the full auditors’ report, which runs well over a hundred pages, individuals familiar with the document assure me that it unveils a deeply entrenched culture of dishonesty that pervades CAI’s foreign operations. The financial transgressions revealed in the documents I received pertained to only a portion of the financial activities of just two of the ten program managers who directed CAI’s operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. Each manager controlled his or her own fief. Although the sums embezzled by Ilyas probably surpassed the sums embezzled by other managers during this period, one can imagine that among the eight staffers who escaped my scrutiny, there were at least a few who played fast and loose with CAI’s money, as well.

    Which should come as no surprise. The leaders of any charity—the executive director and the board of directors—determine the culture of the entire organization, largely by example of their own ethical conduct. And the leadership of Mortenson and his board was rife with ethical and managerial failings, as the Montana Attorney General’s investigation made abundantly clear:

    We concluded that the board of directors failed to fulfill some of its important responsibilities in governing the nonprofit charity. Further, Mortenson failed to fulfill his responsibilities as executive director and as a member of the board…. When charities take the money people give for specific purposes, it is essential that the money be spent as intended. When it is not, the underlying public trust erodes and can be difficult to restore.

    On November 26, in response to my most recent request to CAI that the charity post the HLB audit on its website, Chairman-elect Steve Barrett sent me an email explaining that

    the board has been busy yet recognizes the many important issues that still need to be addressed and is dedicated to dealing with them professionally and transparently. The results will be evident, but the Board is not interested in playing out those resolutions in the media. While addressing all these issues CAI must also insure that the existing programs are supported so that thousands of young girls can continue their schooling.

    Barrett’s reply leaves open the possibility that CAI may yet post the audit. I certainly hope it happens, and soon. People contemplating year-end donations to CAI deserve to know the truth about CAI’s overseas programs. Barrett’s suggestion that the charity needs to withhold the foreign audit in order “to insure that the existing programs are supported so that thousands of young girls can continue their schooling” is shortsighted. Keeping the audit under wraps undermines crucial trust in a way that is counterproductive to the charity’s mission over the long haul.

    Changing CAI’s corrupt institutional culture is going to be a difficult, protracted process at best. But such a transformation will be impossible unless the new board of directors and new executive director (who is expected to be appointed by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter) stop trying to downplay the extent of CAI’s problems, and instead adopt a policy of genuine transparency. The sins of the Mortenson era—all of them, no matter how shameful—need to be brought to light before CAI can move forward in a meaningful way. It would be a great blessing if this were to occur. The need is huge for what a reformed CAI could provide.

  2. David Oliver Relin, Rest in Peace

    David Oliver Relin, the co-author of Three Cups of Tea, died on November 15, 2012. He was 49 years old. My condolences to his family and friends. According to an obituary published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, his family requests that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to David’s favorite charities, Mercy Corps and Habitat For Humanity.

  3. CAI Donors On the Hook for $1 Million in Legal Fees

    The collateral damage from Greg Mortenson’s literary and financial transgressions includes the cost of hiring a swarm of lawyers to defend him—a cost that has been borne primarily by the Central Asia Institute. Financial statements posted last month reveal that in 2011 CAI spent a staggering $1,048,776 on attorneys’ fees. By comparison, in 2010 CAI spent just $28,170 on attorneys’ fees. Most of the colossal increase reflects the expense of retaining four law firms to represent CAI and Mortenson in a pair of imbroglios attributable to his misdeeds: the class-action lawsuit over Mortenson’s bogus memoirs, and the investigation of CAI by Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, who ordered “Mortenson to pay restitution of $980,000 [a sum that included no reimbursement for attorneys' fees] plus reimburse the charity an unknown amount for any improper personal charges discovered through an independent audit….” During the Attorney General's investigation, CAI shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars for aggressive lawyers to negotiate the best possible deal for Mortenson, thereby minimizing the amount he had to repay the charity. Although the settlement these lawyers hammered out was in Mortenson's best interest, it ran counter to the interests of the folks who ultimately picked up the lawyers’ tab, CAI donors.

    CAI has a liability policy with the Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company that is supposed to cover attorney’s fees arising from legal predicaments, but the insurance company is balking at paying the charity’s claim. Thus far Philadelphia Indemnity has reimbursed CAI for less than 6% of the cost of defending Mortenson, and in August 2012, CAI received a letter from Philadelphia Indemnity indicating that it intends to reimburse CAI for only a fraction of the remaining fees. Believing that Philadelphia Indemnity is shirking its obligation to reimburse CAI in full, the charity has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court charging the insurance company with breach of contract.

    CAI’s liability policy with Philadelphia Indemnity, however, contains a clause that suggests CAI might have difficulty winning this lawsuit. According to page 22 of the policy, the insurance company:

    shall not be liable… to make any payment for Loss in connection with any Claim… arising out of, based upon or attributable to any actual or alleged:

    1. Publication or utterance of material by or at the direction of such insured [i.e., Mortenson] with knowledge of its falsity; or

    2. Composing, editing, designing, publishing, distributing or printing periodicals, advertisements or other materials by the insured for another party if such activity is not in connection with and not a regular part of the insured’s own publications; or

    3. Failure of goods, products or services to conform with advertised quality or performance….

    In other words, Mortenson’s lies and self-dealing could very well invalidate CAI’s liability policy, sticking CAI donors—the victims of Mortenson’s wrongdoing—with the bill for mounting a phenomenally expensive legal defense of Mortenson’s lies and self-dealing.

    UPDATE April 1, 2013: Although the audited financial statement mentioned above reports that CAI spent $1,048,776 on legal fees in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, a legal brief filed by Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company on March 14, 2013 divulges that between December 1, 2010 and December 1, 2011, CAI spent more than $1.7 million on attorneys' fees and other costs associated with the Montana attorney general's investigation of Mortenson and CAI, and the class-action lawsuit over the fabrications in Mortenson's books.

  4. Lawsuit Against Mortenson, Dismissed Last Month, Has Been Appealed

    Seventeen days ago, the class-action lawsuit charging Greg Mortenson, David Relin, and Penguin Books with fraud for fabricating parts of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools was dismissed with prejudice by a Montana judge on procedural grounds, before evidence of Mortenson’s extensive fabrications could be gathered and presented to the court.

    Yesterday, the three plaintiffs on the losing side filed a notice of appeal with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. They hope to persuade the 9th Circuit that their claims of fraud were rejected prematurely, and should have been allowed to move forward. If the plaintiffs win their appeal, the case will be sent back to Federal District Court in Montana for further proceedings.

    The plaintiffs, however, face a daunting challenge. The legal bar for proving fraud is set very high. Although the evidence is overwhelming that Mortenson fabricated significant portions of his books, it will not be enough for the plaintiffs to show that the books are larded with falsehoods. To resurrect their lawsuit, the plaintiffs must also identify the specific falsehoods they relied on when deciding to buy Mortenson’s books, and demonstrate how they were damaged as a consequence.

    For example, it would be easy to prove that Mortenson lied about being nursed back to health over an extended period by the residents of Korphe in the aftermath of his failed attempt to climb K2 in 1993; indeed, Mortenson has unequivocally confessed that he didn’t spend even a single night in Korphe, directly contradicting the account published in Three Cups of Tea. Nevertheless, it could be difficult for the plaintiffs to prove that they purchased the book based on Mortenson's specific claim to have spent many days and nights recuperating in Korphe, and that they suffered damages as a result.

    This is what Judge Haddon was talking about last month when he explained that he dismissed the suit in “the absence of adequate allegations of reliance, cognizable injury, and misconduct against the Defendants....”

    Whatever happens in the 9th Circuit, the appeal’s initial salvo is expected on August 24, when the plaintiffs’ opening brief is due to be filed.

  5. Lawsuit Against Mortenson Dismissed

    This morning the Honorable Judge Sam Haddon dismissed the class-action lawsuit against Greg Mortenson, David Relin, and Penguin Books. The suit was dismissed “with prejudice” on technical grounds. According to Judge Haddon,

    In short, the Complaint fails and is deficient on several fronts. The RICO, fraud, and deceit claims are not pled with the requisite level of particularity. Plaintiffs fail to satisfy causal elements of RICO, do not identify each Defendant's role in the frauds, present highly questionable enterprise theories, do not adequately identify the alleged racketeering activity, and fail to identify the specific representations and materiality of such representations relied upon. An express contract is not pleaded. An implied contract is not found, as consent and consideration are missing. In the absence of adequate allegations of reliance, cognizable injury, and misconduct against the Defendants, the remaining claims fail.

    Due to the numerous procedural flaws in the plaintiffs' lawsuit, the judge determined there was no reason to consider allegations that Mortenson fabricated crucial portions of his books, or to ponder the First Amendment issues raised by the defendants' attorneys. Indeed, the lawsuit was dismissed before any evidence was even gathered.

    The dismissal of this suit is a significant development. Mortenson is now free to speak publicly without fear of legal repercussions. He has promised that when this moment arrived he would answer questions from donors and the media, and fully explain his actions. Many of us are very much looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

  6. Montana Attorney General's Report on Greg Mortenson

    This morning Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock released a 31-page report based on his yearlong investigation of Greg Mortenson and Central Asia Institute. The investigation exposed “serious internal problems in the management of CAI,” and requires Mortenson to pay CAI more than $1 million to amend for his “financial transgressions.” The report is worth reading in its entirety, which you can do here, but below is a distillation of its highlights.

    According to Bullock:

    We concluded that the board of directors failed to fulfill some of its important responsibilities in governing the nonprofit charity. Further, Mortenson failed to fulfill his responsibilities as executive director and as a member of the board…. When charities take the money people give for specific purposes, it is essential that the money be spent as intended. When it is not, the underlying public trust erodes and can be difficult to restore….

    [CAI] paid virtually all the costs to produce the book [“Three Cups of Tea”]—approximately $367,000—and in the following years bought and gave away thousands of copies…. In addition to the production costs of approximately $367,000 for “Three Cups of Tea”, since 2006 CAI has spent approximately $3.96 million buying copies of the books…. CAI’s purchases generated royalties for Mortenson and his co-authors…. As of early April 2011, Mortenson had not made any payments to CAI to compensate it for these royalties, and CAI’s board had not taken steps to demand such payments…. In addition to the costs of purchasing books, CAI spent approximately $4.93 million since 2006 advertising the books, out of a total advertising expenditure of approximately $6.11 million.

    [Following the publication of “Three Cups of Tea”], Mortenson began travelling extensively on charter jets. The charter flights were paid for through CAI’s credit cards or wire transfer of CAI funds. Over time, these charter costs totaled almost $2 million. The CAI board was aware of, and approved the use of, charter flights. [JK: According to friends of Mortenson, however, when they noticed him flying on chartered jets and asked him about it, he lied and told them the jets were loaned to CAI free of charge “by the CEO of Costco.”]

    Mortenson received speaker’s fees for many of these appearances…. As demand for Mortenson’s speeches increased, so did the honorariums he received. In 2008, for example, the standard speaking fee was $15,000. Of that amount, $3,750 went back to the PSB [Penguin Speakers Bureau] and Mortenson kept $11,250. In subsequent years the total engagement fee increased to between $25,000 and $30,000 [JK: Actually it increased to $35,000]—all but $7,500 of which went to Mortenson. CAI paid the travel and promotional costs associated with Mortenson’s public appearances…. At the same time CAI was paying the travel costs, however, many of the event sponsors were paying a separate, additional fee for travel costs. For most speaking engagements arranged by PSB in 2010 and 2011, and for some speaking engagements arranged by PSB in 2009, the event sponsor paid a specified amount for travel costs, in addition to the speaker’s fee. In January 2011, before the media stories broke in April, Mortenson began paying his own travel. From January 18 through April 11, his final speaking event of the year, Mortenson paid $252,042.11 for travel to 26 speaking engagements. Prior to the initiation of this investigation, Mortenson had not reimbursed CAI for the travel expenses he received from event sponsors. Thus, Mortenson was “double dipping.” His travel expenses were, in many cases, paid twice: by both CAI and event sponsors.

    Between 2001 and 2011, CAI had three independent audits of its financials. The audits performed for the 2003, 2009 and 2010 fiscal years revealed material weaknesses in CAI’s financial and internal controls. Rather than address the deficiencies found in the 2003 audit, the board discontinued auditing its finances. The same material weaknesses appeared in the later audits. The CAI board also was expressly told of financial deficiencies and problems with internal controls by its former chief financial officer during the CFO’s employment with the charity. Those problems were further detailed and reiterated in a memorandum supplied to the board when the CFO resigned in 2004.

    We examined CAI credit card statements spanning 10 years. Of those 10 years, supporting receipts for eight sample months were requested: December 2007; August, October and December 2008; November 2009; January, March and July 2010. CAI provided receipts for just 38 percent of the total charges during those eight sample months. And, many of the receipts did not satisfy the requirements of the policy manual because there was no voucher or other written indication of the purpose of the charge. Mortenson, in particular, consistently failed to comply with either commonly accepted business practices or CAI’s policy manual with respect to documenting expenses charged on CAI’s accounts. The issue was repeatedly raised through the years. Board members testified that despite requests, cajoling, demands and admonitions, they were unsuccessful in getting Mortenson to submit proper documentation to support the charges he was making to the charity. The board went so far as to provide Mortenson with a personal assistant while traveling. This, however, also failed, as the personal assistant, himself, did not adequately comply with expense reimbursement requirements, nor did he cure the problems relating to Mortenson’s expenses.

    The more significant issue was not simply compliance with expense reimbursement and documentation policies, but the nature and magnitude of charges for which inadequate documentation exists. Through the years, Mortenson charged substantial personal expenses to CAI. These include expenses for such things as LL Bean clothing, iTunes, luggage, luxurious accommodations, and even vacations. Note 9 to CAI’s fiscal year 2009-10 audit states: “During the fiscal year ended September 30, 2010, the Organization paid expenses on behalf of its Executive Director which was recorded as a receivable to be reimbursed to the Organization.” The receivable in question was for $75,276.10 – the amount of company funds that CAI auditors determined Mortenson used for personal reasons…. Based on our investigation, it appears likely that there are personal charges for Mortenson and his family from other years, which properly should be paid back to CAI. Mortenson was not the only person who made unsupported charges to CAI’s accounts. The credit card statements reflect questionable charges by other employees at restaurants, bars and spas, and on health club dues and gifts. It is possible that some of these charges can be supported and justified as appropriate expenses of the charity. It appears probable, however, that some of them cannot be.

    Each of CAI’s three financial audits, as well as the organization’s own records, identify deficiencies in documenting its overseas projects and accounting for wire transfers abroad and overseas expenses. For example, large sums of CAI funds were often wired to central Asia where CAI staff members, including Mortenson, would use the funds to carry out its mission. The audit deficiencies spotlighted the lack of documentation to prove how the money was spent or if it was spent as intended.

    CAI’s board presently comprises three individuals, one of whom is Mortenson. All three directors have served on the board continuously since 2003…. It was evident when they were interviewed that they each believe deeply in the charity’s mission, and want it to succeed. It was equally evident that each of the board members greatly admires Mortenson and the work he has done – both on the ground in central Asia, and in carrying CAI’s message of education and peace to people throughout the United States and beyond. The board’s history and testimony from certain members, however, supports a conclusion that there was a deliberate effort to put people who are loyal to Mortenson on the board.

    The three board members who resigned in 2002 were effectively ousted, based on tensions and conflict that had developed with Mortenson. Meeting minutes show Hornbein, the board chair, and Wiltsie, the board treasurer, repeatedly asked for documentation to prove that CAI was getting a positive return on the money Mortenson was spending. Hornbein in particular requested itemized lists of Mortenson’s travel expenses, of the money coming in, and of contacts being made. He also advocated for phasing out Mortenson’s role in overseeing daily operations. In short, the board members who resigned were essentially trying to perform the kinds of oversight functions expected of boards of directors for organizations such as CAI. Despite being made aware of ongoing problems relating to accountability for expenditures and other financial issues, the CAI board never adequately addressed those problems. Specifically, the board did not exercise sufficient control and direction over Mortenson. Any efforts to do so were complicated by his dual role as executive director and a voting member of the board.

    Based on the information obtained in this investigation, it is clear that Mortenson was not an effective manager of CAI. He, by his own admission, is not well-versed or comfortable in financial and personnel management issues. He did not communicate well with staff in the charity’s office in Bozeman. He maintained a prodigious travel schedule. He testified, and there is no reason to doubt, that he worked virtually nonstop. It is doubtful that even a skilled manager could maintain the kind of travel and outreach schedule Mortenson maintained and still effectively manage an organization that has grown to the size of CAI. Yet, Mortenson consistently insisted on maintaining substantial control over the charity’s affairs. When employees challenged him by attempting to get him to provide documentation to substantiate expenditures, or otherwise to comply with sound management practices, he resisted and/or ignored them. Some of them ended up leaving.

    Anne Beyersdorfer currently serves as the interim executive director of CAI. She is a consultant who also has a long-standing personal relationship with Mortenson and his wife. She was brought into CAI following the Parade article to help manage the deluge of mail and contributions. The board determined that under the circumstances that developed in 2011, it was beneficial to have a person whom Mortenson knows and trusts, and who had prior experience with CAI, to serve as interim executive director. This may have been a legitimate approach, and there have been positive changes implemented with Beyersdorfer serving as interim executive director. It is, however, one more example of an organization that is controlled by people with personal affinity for, and loyalty to, Mortenson.

    It is important to note that Attorney General Bullock’s investigation did not examine allegations of extensive fabrications in the narratives of Mortenson’s books. Nor did the AG consider Mortenson’s apparent violation of stringent federal tax codes concerning personal inurement and excess benefits. Such issues, Bullock pointed out, “are not within the province of the Attorney General’s oversight responsibility regarding nonprofit charities.”

    Nevertheless, in a legal Settlement Agreement and Assurance of Voluntary Compliance between the Attorney General, Central Asia Institute, and Mortenson, it was resolved that:

    CAI will expand its board to a minimum of seven directors.

    Current board members, Karen McCown and Abdul Jabbar, will remain on the board for no more than one year to facilitate the transition to new board members.

    Mortenson may not serve as a voting board member while he is employed by CAI, though he may serve on the board in a nonvoting, ex officio capacity.

    As an employee of CAI, Mortenson may not hold positions requiring financial oversight and he must strictly adhere to all board policies governing the conduct of employees.

    CAI will retain an independent professional consultant to assist in finding a new executive director.

    The corrective actions listed above are encouraging. But it should be pointed out that the new executive director and all of the new board members are likely to be selected and appointed by McCown and Jabbar, with input from Mortenson. Neither the Attorney General nor any other outside entity has the legal authority to veto or contest any of the individuals appointed. Given the track record of McCown, Jabbar, and Mortenson over the past decade, this should be cause for great concern.

  7. Breaking News: Greg Mortenson's Charity Added to Lawsuit; Montana Attorney General Calls Investigation "High Priority”

    On January 12, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Sam E. Haddon issued an order that allows the Central Asia Institute to be added as a defendant in the ongoing class-action lawsuit against Mortenson, his co-author David Oliver Relin, and the Penguin Group, publisher of Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools.

    When the lawsuit was originally filed on May 5, 2011, CAI was included as a defendant, but then dropped from the claim six weeks later because the Montana Attorney General was already investigating Mortenson’s charity. On November 30, 2011, lawyers for the plaintiffs filed a motion to reinstate CAI as a defendant after determining that the charity had committed numerous violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO, which was enacted by Congress in 1970 to prosecute the Mafia.

    Judge Haddon’s order not only reinstated CAI as a defendant in the class action, but it allowed the plaintiffs to revise their complaint in other significant ways, as well. The amended lawsuit alleges that Mortenson, Relin, Penguin, MC Consulting (a corporation controlled by Mortenson), and CAI committed RICO violations by collectively entering

    into a massively widespread pattern of racketeering activity… comprised of an ongoing scheme to defraud and actually defrauding purchasers of the books over at least an eight year period and continuing to this day, where they continued to misrepresent that the contents of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools were true, nonfiction accounts of what really happened, when, in fact, the contents were false and the accounts did not happen. The enterprise’s fraudulent scheme was to make Mortenson into a false hero, to sell books representing to contain true events, when they were false, to defraud millions of unsuspecting purchasers out of the purchase price of the books, and to raise millions of dollars in charitable donations for CAI, a charity that was founded and run by Mortenson. The frauds perpetrated by this enterprise, contrived and carried out by Defendants through their racketeering activities, were not slight, factual inaccuracies based on time or location, but outright lies which were used as advertisements to raise millions of dollars in charitable contributions and earn themselves millions of dollars in profits.

    Although Judge Haddon’s order allows the amended lawsuit to proceed, resolution of the case could still be years away. In the meantime, the Montana Attorney General’s investigation of Mortenson and CAI, presently in its ninth month and listed as a “high priority,” has been moving forward at a much faster pace. Multiple sources in Bozeman, Montana, where CAI’s headquarters are located, told me that during the last week of November 2011, the Attorney General deposed Mortenson, CAI board members Abdul Jabbar and Karen McCown, and CAI operations director Jennifer Sipes. A few days after the depositions, Anne Beyersdorfer, the charity’s acting executive director, sent a year-end letter to CAI donors in which she announced,

    During Greg's medical leave and recuperation this year, he and CAI's Board of Directors had time to think about his continuing role in CAI. They determined that Greg would remove himself from day-to-day management of CAI to focus on what he does best—build relationships; empower children, especially girls, through literacy and education; and assist the organization with global outreach. This shift will allow Greg to concentrate his efforts and nearly two decades of experience on areas where he can do the most good. Our board of directors is also eager to expand its numbers, and Greg will be able to speak publicly, once outstanding legal issues are resolved.

  8. Perpetuating the Korphe Lie

    The Claim: On April 18, 2011, Outside Online published an interview with Mortenson in which he described the route he took on the final day of his trek down from K2 in September 1993. According to Mortenson, he started walking toward the village of Askole that morning from a place called Korophon, near the snout of the Biafo Glacier. “When you’re coming out from there,” Mortenson told Outside, “there’s a fork in the trail about two hours before Askole…. I made a wrong turn there. So I ended up in Korphe.”

    In earlier public statements, Mortenson had explained that this “wrong turn” caused him to miss a crucial river crossing, which I was able to identify as the Biafo Bridge by studying an image of the distinctive span that appears three minutes into a PBS video about Mortenson uploaded to YouTube in 2010. As I pointed out in an update four months ago, if Mortenson had taken the aforementioned wrong turn and failed to cross the Biafo Bridge, as he claimed, it would have been impossible for him to reach Korphe without swimming across the icy, fearsome, Braldu River, a feat that almost certainly would have killed him, had he attempted it.

    Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Mortenson continues to insist that he stumbled into Korphe at the conclusion of his K2 trek. In a tacit retraction of his earlier claim that he inadvertently bypassed the Biafo Bridge, however, the new edition of Journey of Hope magazine, published by the Central Asia Institute on November 30, provides a very different account of how Mortenson ended up in Korphe, which I’ve annotated in this series of Google Earth images.

    On page six of the magazine, in an article describing a visit to Korphe in May 2011, CAI Communications Director Karin Ronnow says she and several companions were taken to see a little-known bridge Mortenson walked across in 1993, allowing him to arrive in Korphe without a life-threatening swim. Her guide on the excursion to this bridge, (which has never before been mentioned by Mortenson, his co-author David Relin, or any of Mortenson’s spokespersons), was Twaha, the son of the late Haji Ali—the village chieftain who persuaded Mortenson to build a school in Korphe. As readers of Three Cups of Tea are well aware, both Twaha and Haji Ali figure prominently in Mortenson’s narrative, have benefited greatly from his largesse, and regard him as family.

    In Ronnow’s telling, it was late in the afternoon when Twaha led an entourage from the Korphe School toward the bridge

    through the narrow maze of paths between the houses. He pointed out his own home and then his father’s home, where he said, “Inside there is where Greg slept. We could make museum someday. What do you think?”…

    But the time before sunset was getting short, Twaha said, and kept the crew moving out of the village. The path wound north alongside irrigated fields, across a rock-strewn stream and onto an arid plateau littered with boulders.

    From the village, it’s a 30-minute walk to the remains of the old bridge over the Braldu River that Twaha was so eager to point out.

    “There,” he said, pointing down a nearly vertical hill. “The bridge is right there. Bridge is no good now, but when Greg came, it was crossable. If you were on the other side and looked south, you would see Korphe, but not Askole. So he crossed to Korphe.”*

    And the rest, as they say, is history.

    The Truth: Contrary to Ronnow’s assertion, the rest is not history. It’s merely another attempt to deceive.

    The derelict bridge mentioned in the article does indeed exist. Although it’s been all but destroyed by seasonal floods and a decade of neglect, if you go to Korphe on Google Earth and zoom down to a point 1.1 miles due east of the Korphe School, you can plainly see what’s left of the ruined span. The southern terminus of its fraying cables are anchored to the edge of a broad alluvial shelf overlooking the Braldu River. This “arid plateau littered with boulders,” as Ronnow describes the setting, is known to the residents of Korphe and Askole as Testay Dass.

    Twaha, however, was clearly mistaken (or was egregiously misquoted by Ronnow) when he asserted that Mortenson reached Korphe by walking across this bridge in 1993. Such a feat would have been impossible, because the bridge didn’t exist at the time.

    Balti workers who helped build the bridge at Testay Dass are adamant that construction didn’t begin until 1999, and wasn’t completed until 2000. Pakistani-American educator and mountain guide Masood Ahmad, who trekked from the Baltoro Glacier to Askole approximately two weeks after Mortenson, is also absolutely certain that this bridge didn’t exist in 1993. “I can also categorically and unequivocally state that there was NO bridge across the Braldu River between Askolie and Korphe in 1993,” he wrote to me in an email on November 30, 2011, “as I was there during the same time Greg Mortenson was.”

    The new claim in Journey of Hope that Mortenson crossed the bridge at Testay Dass in 1993 turns out to be even more surprising when one learns that six years after this crossing purportedly occurred, it was Mortenson who personally arranged for this bridge to be built and paid for with CAI funds, according to Zaman Ali, a resident of Askole who helped build it. Other Pakistani sources have confirmed that in 1999, four years after Mortenson built the bridge west of Korphe made famous in Three Cups of Tea, he began building a second bridge east of Korphe at Testay Dass.

    Mortenson is Ronnow’s boss, and they have a long history and close relationship. It’s inconceivable that Ronnow’s article—which contradicts Mortenson’s previous accounts of how he stumbled into Korphe, and presents an entirely new version of such a consequential and controversial event—would not have been carefully vetted by Mortenson prior to publication. Which raises dismaying questions about why Mortenson not only allowed Twaha’s patently false claim to be included in the published article, but also appears to have enthusiastically encouraged such a dishonest act to be carried out on his behalf.

  9. Greg Mortenson Truth Check

    Phantom Audits

    The Claim: On September 26, 2011, The Nonprofit Quarterly published an online article titled, “Has the Central Asia Institute Changed Enough to Regain Public Trust?” Among the comments appended to the mildly critical article was a rejoinder from Anne Beyersdorfer, CAI’s interim executive director, in which she promised, “CAI’s audited financial statements will be posted on CAI’s website this week.” Nine days later, a link to a document titled “Central Asia Institute Annual Report” went up on the charity’s blog, which appeared to fulfill her promise. On page 12 of the document, under the heading, “Independent Auditor’s Report,” is a cover letter from Galusha, Higgins & Galusha (an accounting firm in Bozeman, Montana) addressed to the Board of Directors of CAI. The letter begins,

    We have audited the accompanying statement of financial position of Central Asia Institute (a nonprofit organization) as of September 30, 2010 and 2009, and the related statements of activities and cash flows for the year then ended. These financial statements are the responsibility of the entity’s management. Our responsibility is to express an opinion on these financial statements based on our audit.

    Immediately following the cover letter are six pages of financial data—the auditor’s recap of the financial information filed on CAI’s tax returns for 2009 and 2010. Anyone examining these pages would believe—as Beyersdorfer clearly intended them to believe—that he or she is viewing the complete, unadulterated “Independent Auditor’s Report.”

    The Truth: When CAI was established as a nonprofit corporation in 1996, its official bylaws stated, “The Corporation shall provide for an annual audit of its accounts by an independent accountant to be chosen by the board of directors.” The requirement of an annual audit was reaffirmed when the board restated the bylaws in January 2009, and an audited financial statement is currently required by statute in at least 20 states were CAI operates. On the face of it, the “Annual Report” that appeared on the CAI website on October 5, 2011 seemed to satisfy this requirement. But Beyersdorfer and her staff actually deleted more than half of the independent audit before posting it online.

    Beyersdorfer received the complete “Independent Auditor’s Report” from Galusha, Higgins & Galusha on August 29, 2011. After waiting five weeks to put it online, she deliberately removed 10 pages of the original 19-page document before posting it. The missing material consists of important “notes” from the auditor that augment the report’s financial statements in crucial ways.

    In order to deter unscrupulous individuals from attempting precisely this kind of deception, on each of the six pages of financial data that were posted on the CAI website, the auditors had printed an unambiguous warning: “The accompanying notes are an integral part of these financial statements.” But before Beyersdorfer and her staff put these six pages online, they scrubbed the auditor’s warnings from each page, thereby concealing the fact that they had deleted the 10 pages of notes altogether. (This is the same Anne Beyersdorfer who has repeatedly pledged in public statements that CAI “is all about full transparency.”)

    So why was Beyersdorfer, acting on Mortenson’s behalf, so determined to keep the auditor’s notes hidden from public view? According to “Note 9” (on page 18 of the complete, unexpurgated auditor’s report), “During the fiscal year ended September 30, 2010, the Organization paid expenses on behalf of its Executive Director which was recorded as a receivable to be reimbursed to the Organization.” This is a veiled reference to a mysterious loan of $75,276 the charity reportedly made to Mortenson. But on CAI’s most recent tax return a bookkeeper checked a tiny box (see Schedule L, Part II: “Loans to and/or From Interested Persons”) disclosing that a written agreement for the loan does not exist. In fact, there was no loan. Instead, it appears that Mortenson charged $75,276 of personal expenses to CAI, and when the accountants uncovered this, Mortenson persuaded his board of directors to label the transaction a “loan” in order to cover up the theft.

    “Note 10” in the auditor’s report (on page 19 of the unaltered document) also divulges information that Mortenson and Beyersdorfer apparently don’t want CAI donors to know about:

    On August 11, 2011, the Board of Directors adopted a resolution, in accordance with the bylaws, indemnifying a Board member for his costs and expenses incurred in connection with his participation in the inquiry that has been initiated by the Montana Attorney General…, as well as in connection with his defense of a lawsuit…. The total cost to the Organization, if any, of this indemnification is unknown at this time.

    The unnamed “Board member” whom the board resolved to indemnify is Mortenson. Translated into plain English, the resolution commits CAI to pay all the expenses Mortenson incurs during the Montana Attorney General’s ongoing investigation of CAI—including not just his personal attorneys fees, but also any “judgments, fines and amounts paid in settlement” he is required to pony up. Even more outrageous, the board’s resolution also directs the charity to cover all the personal legal expenses Mortenson incurs from a class-action lawsuit accusing him of defrauding millions of individuals who purchased his books as factual accounts—even though CAI isn’t a defendant in this class-action lawsuit*.

    Last August 11, in addition to agreeing that CAI should foot the bill for Mortenson’s legal problems, the board of directors restated the charity’s bylaws yet again. This time around they deleted the clause that required “an annual audit of its accounts by an independent accountant.” And then on October 5, when Beyersdorfer posted the doctored 2009/2010 “Independent Auditor’s Report” without the auditor’s notes, she had her staff erase the complete, unexpurgated 2009 “Independent Auditors Report” from the CAI website.

    How do Mortenson and his board get away with such flagrant mendacity and self-dealing? Because Mortenson controls the CAI board of directors through the strange power of his personality, and only the CAI board has the legal authority to overhaul itself and give Mortenson the boot. It’s an exasperating Catch-22. Thus, the board still consists of the same three individuals: Mortenson, Karen McCown, and Abdul Jabbar, despite repeated avowals by Beyersdorfer over the past five months that “the current CAI board is in the process of expanding the number of board members.”

    By enabling Mortenson’s transgressions since 2003, McCown and Jabbar have exposed themselves to potential criminal and civil legal actions. For this reason it seems doubtful that either of them has any intention of expanding the CAI board in the foreseeable future. Principled, independent-minded outsiders, if added to the board, would almost certainly demand that Mortenson be fired, and that CAI embrace a policy of genuine transparency to regain the public trust. Based on the recent behavior of Mortenson, McCown, and Jabbar, it seems increasingly clear that transparent is the last thing they want CAI to become, notwithstanding Beyersdorfer’s empty assurances to the contrary. It appears that Mortenson and his current board would rather let CAI be destroyed by a drawn-out scandal than own up to their mistakes and allow the charity to begin repairing its battered reputation under new leadership.

    *NOTE: On November 30, 2011, lawyers for the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit filed an amended complaint proposing that CAI be included as one of the defendants (the other defendants are Mortenson, his co-author David Relin, and their publisher, the Penguin Group).

  10. Greg Mortenson Truth Check

    “No Duty to Publish Accurate Information”

    The Claim: On April 15, 2011, when a “60 Minutes” press release first broke the news that the most dramatic and inspiring stories in Three Cups of Tea are phony, Mortenson immediately issued a statement declaring, “I stand by the information conveyed in my book.” On April 25, the Central Asia Institute released another statement reiterating the claim: “The contents of Greg Mortenson’s books ‘Three Cups of Tea’ and ‘Stones Into Schools’ are based on events that actually happened.” Six months after this scandal was exposed, Mortenson and his spokespersons continue to insist that his books are factual accounts.

    The Truth: A Montana law firm, Hoyt & Blewett, has filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against Mortenson, his co-author David Oliver Relin, and their publisher, the Penguin Group, “for fraud, deceit, breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and constructive trust.” According to the plaintiffs,

    Mortenson, Relin, and/or Penguin have repeatedly fabricated material details in the books “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones into Schools”. The purpose of these fabrications was to induce unsuspecting individuals to purchase these books and feel good about Mortenson, as a humanitarian working for the sole benefit of children. These fabrications have generated significant sums of money for Mortenson, Relin, and Penguin in the form of book sales, personal fame for Mortenson, and other financial benefits to Mortenson from his charitable work….

    In an effort to entice people by Mortenson’s self-proclaimed humanitarianism and to buy the two books, Mortenson, Relin and Penguin have consistently maintained that the statements in the books and Mortenson’s public speeches and published writings are true. His books and public statements contain many fabrications and/or omissions, which he, Relin and/or Penguin have repeated publicly on numerous occasions.

    As lead attorney Anders Blewett, a Montana state senator, told the Associated Press when he filed the lawsuit,

    We welcome the opportunity to let Mr. Mortenson testify under oath to all these things. To us, it seems overwhelmingly false and we will give him ample opportunity to explain away all of the falsehoods.*

    Anne Beyersdorfer, who is running CAI while Mortenson is on medical leave, responded that she, too, was looking forward to having Mortenson present his side of the story in a court of law:

    [W]hile nobody likes litigation, we welcome an opportunity for full disclosure in a neutral forum, rather than trial by media.

    In the legal briefs that have been filed thus far, however, the battalion of lawyers retained by Mortenson and Penguin have conspicuously declined to assert that his books are honest accounts. Instead of contending that Mortenson’s statements are factual, they have simply argued that the suit should be dismissed on constitutional and technical grounds before evidence is even gathered. In a Preliminary Pretrial Statement submitted on September 9, 2011, for example, the attorneys for Penguin opined that the plaintiff’s lawsuit should be summarily rejected because “all of Penguin’s alleged conduct is protected by the First Amendment” and “Penguin owed no duty to publish accurate information.”

    It remains to be seen whether the Honorable Sam E. Haddon will be swayed by such arguments (Haddon is the U.S. District Court Judge who was assigned to take the case on October 6, 2011, after the Honorable Donald W. Molloy recused himself because he had read part of Three Cups of Tea and attended a public lecture by Mortenson). Perhaps the constitutional right to freedom of speech does indeed entitle Mortenson to fill his books with whoppers, and likewise entitles Penguin to sell these fictional accounts as works of nonfiction. But even if the court determines that Mortenson and Penguin have a legal right to hoodwink the public, by no means does it negate their ethical responsibility to be truthful, or excuse their elaborate and ongoing acts of deceit.

    On April 16, 2011, following the “60 Minutes” press release, Viking (the Penguin imprint that published the hardcover editions of Mortenson’s books) issued a statement declaring that it relied on its authors “to tell the truth, and they are contractually obligated to do so.” On April 18, a day after the “60 Minutes” show about Mortenson was broadcast, Viking pledged in another statement, “60 Minutes is a serious news organization and in the wake of their report, Viking plans to carefully review the materials with the author."

    Six months down the road, however, neither Viking nor any other Penguin imprint has said anything more about such a review, or made further mention of its authors’ obligations to be truthful. Penguin continues to sell Mortenson’s books as factual accounts, without qualification or apology. A boldface blurb on the back cover of Three Cups of Tea still advertises it as “The astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his remarkable humanitarian campaign in the Taliban’s backyard.”

    Although the book no longer appears on The New York Times bestseller list, it continues to sell briskly. Thanks to the curriculum still being promoted through CAI’s Pennies for Peace program, Three Cups of Tea remains required reading in thousands of schools across North America. The Pennies for Peace study guide for grades 9-12 still urges teachers to ask students to write an expository essay titled “Hero’s Journey,” in which they compare “Mortenson’s journey in Three Cups of Tea with that of [a] hero from a specific work of fiction or mythology. For example, how does Mortenson’s journey compare to that of Hercules?” An edition for young readers, Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg & Three Cups of Tea, is assigned to teach kids in the first and second grades the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Mortenson’s book is cited as an example of the latter.

    Since March 2006, when the first edition of Three Cups of Tea was published, Mortenson’s books have generated more than $40 million in revenues for the Penguin Group, and as long as the publisher keeps hawking his books as nonfiction, this lucrative revenue stream is apt to continue. Penguin's jackpot was significantly boosted by the more than $5 million CAI donors have unknowingly paid to buy magazine ads for Mortenson's books (even though CAI didn't receive a nickel of the proceeds from those book sales), an apparent violation of IRS regulations.

  11. Greg Mortenson Truth Check

    Where Culpability Resides

    The Claim: The current issue of the magazine Journey of Hope, published by the Central Asia Institute on May 6, 2011, states,

    Recent media reports have alleged that several CAI schools in Baltistan, in northern Pakistan, were either not being used at all or were not receiving funds. Since those reports did not always cite particulars, it is hard to respond with precision except to say that there could be several reasons for that, including [that a]… disgruntled former manager for programs in Baltistan was not completely honest with Mortenson and CAI’s Board in recent years about the status of schools for which he was responsible.

    *“Since 1993, CAI has had 15 primary regional managers running the show or in charge of projects and in only one case, in Baltistan, did that system go awry,” Mortenson said. That case involved a manager who may have engaged in “a confidence trick.”

    *“Confidence tricks have been around for a long time, since colonial times, including where I grew up in Africa, where an individual will bend over backwards to help you, refuse to take money for services, befriend you and then after a period of years, begin to test you by committing small infractions to see what your response is,” he said. “They also make you very dependent on their services as a vital part of the operation.

    “One of our great dreams in Baltistan was to set up a hostel in Skardu for students from the outlying regions to continue their education and pursue their dreams. Although the Board approved the original hostel plans, not long after it got started the manager told us he needed more money. Over time this manager said, ‘We have such a great need, we need to make hostel bigger, the price has increased, we need more funding.’ This went on until a point where CAI discovered he had manipulated the books.

    “I trusted him and loved him like a brother. Unfortunately, for the first time in our history CAI wound up on the short end of stick,” he said.

    The Truth: The manager in question is Ghulam Parvi, whom Mortenson hired in 1996 to run CAI’s programs in Pakistan—the organization’s first overseas employee. Parvi worked for CAI until June 2010, when he explained in an a widely disseminated public letter that he was resigning over the numerous falsehoods that had been published in Three Cups of Tea. Shortly thereafter Mortenson announced that he was shocked to learn that Parvi had been embezzling CAI funds. But Mortenson had actually become aware that Parvi was skimming from the charity eleven years previously. According to the minutes from a CAI board meeting held in 2000, Parvi had been caught stealing approximately $6,000 in 1999. Rather than firing Parvi for his theft, however, Mortenson convinced the board of directors to forgive the man and allow him to pay back the stolen funds over time, arguing that Parvi was “meticulous with projects under his jurisdiction and irreplaceable.”

    This lenient approach might have turned out OK if Mortenson had been willing to establish basic accounting practices that would have made it much harder for Parvi to embezzle funds in the future, such as simply documenting how Parvi was spending CAI’s money in Pakistan. But Mortenson refused to do this. In 2004, after Mortenson repeatedly ignored requests from CAI’s Chief Financial Officer, Debbie Raynor, to provide documentation for overseas expenses, Raynor contacted Parvi directly and instructed him to provide her with detailed expense reports. For two or three months Parvi complied—until Mortenson found out about it and ordered Parvi to stop, prompting Raynor to resign.

    With nobody looking over his shoulder, Parvi started stealing anew. In November 2007, shortly before embarking on a Hajj to Mecca, Parvi—fearful that Allah would judge him harshly during his sacred pilgrimage—confessed in an email to Mortenson and Julia Bergman, chairperson of the CAI Board of Directors, that he had again embezzled from CAI; this time his theft amounted to approximately $50,000. Upon receiving this disturbing news, though, Mortenson neither fired Parvi nor probed further into his misconduct, according to CAI staffers, because doing so would have exposed the existence of ghost schools and other secrets that Mortenson wanted to keep hidden. The scandal was thus swept under the rug.

    Two months earlier, CAI had hired a highly motivated, uncommonly capable manager to oversee its international programs, and this woman quickly demonstrated initiative and other leadership skills the charity sorely needed. In 2008 and 2009 she alerted Mortenson to problems she'd discovered in some programs Parvi was running in Baltistan, including broken promises; dubious reporting of the number of students, teachers, and schools; and what appeared to be financial irregularities. Mortenson confessed to her that Parvi had been badly mismanaging the Skardu Hostel project, which was running hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget, and was being built on land for which Parvi, not CAI, held the title. But instead of addressing these crucial issues, or asking his brilliant program manager to investigate further, Mortenson ordered her to stay away from Baltistan and stop communicating with Parvi—while at the same time he continued to authorize large disbursements of money to Parvi.

    When I asked about this incident, a person who worked for CAI during this period explained that Mortenson “did not like people discovering things.” Parvi knew that many significant events described in Three Cups of Tea were outrageous lies, and Mortenson was worried that if he confronted Parvi about his thievery, Parvi would reveal the truth about the book.

    The upshot was that when Parvi resigned from CAI in 2010, he successfully claimed ownership of the four-story hostel (one of the more expensive buildings in Skardu), which had been paid for entirely with CAI funds. And by that point it was way too late for Mortenson or CAI to do anything about it.

    Parvi, as I noted in Three Cups of Deceit, is by no means the only employee among CAI's overseas staff to have misappropriated funds, and Mortenson must share responsibility for the wrongdoing. Over the past sixteen years, he has disbursed millions of dollars in cash to CAI workers in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but his supervision of these employees has been erratic at best. Brief flurries of intense micromanagement have preceded lengthy periods with no guidance whatsoever. The program director in Kabul, Wakil Karimi, went a year without hearing from Mortenson. During one extended silence, Mortenson failed to contact Parvi for an even longer interval. Staff in the Montana office would take calls from Parvi pleading for instructions, begging for Greg to phone him.

    Although Mortenson urged his foreign employees to use CAI funds frugally and not waste a single rupee, his deeds contradicted his words. When Mortenson traveled through Pakistan and Afghanistan, he often brought a Pelican equipment case holding bricks of hundred-dollar bills, and he spent huge sums capriciously, often on things that seemed to have little or nothing to do with schools. Chartered helicopters flew journalists and VIPs from one end of Pakistan to the other. Favors were asked of powerful individuals, who were rewarded lavishly for their help. When the office staff in Montana implored Mortenson to document his expenses, Mortenson routinely ignored them. Adept at reading their mercurial boss, the overseas staff concluded that cash was abundant and bookkeeping was merely a contrivance done for appearance’s sake. As long as Greg went home with inspiring tales to keep the donations flowing, they took for granted that no one would miss a few thousand dollars here and there.

    Mortenson’s irresponsible management of CAI’s operations has not only wasted millions of dollars contributed by donors. It has also done incalculable damage to important CAI programs and the people they were supposed to help. Take, for example, the case of a young woman from Baltistan named Shakeela, who is featured in Three Cups of Tea as “Hushe Valley’s first educated woman.” Mortenson’s book, which includes a photo of Shakeela and her father, Aslam (the chieftain of Hushe), explains on page 208 that Shakeela

    wants to go as far as her education can take her—ideally to medical school. “I’d like to become a doctor and go to work wherever I am needed,” she says. “I’ve learned the world is a very large place and so far, I’ve only seen a little of it.”

    With financial support from CAI, Shakeela left Hushe and studied to become a midwife in the distant city of Lahore, where, after completing her training, she landed an excellent government job. Soon thereafter, however, Mortenson prevailed upon Aslam to convince Shakeela to quit, return to Baltistan, and begin running an obstetrics clinic he promised to open for her in the town of Khaplu.

    Shafqat Hussain, an anthropologist at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, who spoke with Aslam last summer in Baltistan, reports that after Shakeela arrived back in Baltistan,

    Aslam told us that he was unhappy because Shakeela quit a government job (a very sought after employment in countries like Pakistan because it is safe and secure) on Mortenson's advice and in the end Mortenson did not keep his promise of opening a clinic for her in Khaplu. Aslam also mentioned that Shakeela waited in Khaplu for Greg to send money for the clinic, which never arrived, which in the end became a cause of domestic dispute between Aslam and Shakeela’s in-laws.

    Although CAI leased space for the clinic in Khaplu, and continues to pay rent for it, Mortenson’s management of CAI projects in Baltistan is so dysfunctional that the charity failed to provide any funds for Shakeela’s salary or the medical equipment needed to open the clinic. When repeated entreaties to Mortenson and his staff for funding proved fruitless, Shakeela asked her former employer if she could return to Lahore and start delivering babies again at the government clinic. “No,” she was told by her ex-boss. “You quit. Live with the consequences.” Adding to Shakeela's woes, her husband’s family became angry that she was sitting in Khaplu without a job, and pressured her to return to Hushe village.

    Shakeela, I just learned yesterday, has resisted this pressure and has not yet gone back to Hushe. She is still in Khaplu, still unemployed, still waiting for Mortenson to fulfill his promise to fund an obstetrics clinic in this remote district of Baltistan, where the need for such a facility is pressing.

    UPDATE, JUNE 8, 2012: According to Greg Mortenson, (posting on the CAI Blog today from Khaplu), after Shakeela completed her midwife training in Lahore two years ago,

    She then returned to her native Baltistan to start practicing. She took a brief time off to have her first child, and then hired on with the government, which was eager to hire a highly qualified and trained maternal health-care worker to work in rural Baltistan.

    This is not true. After completing her training, Shakeela worked for the government as a midwife in the distant city of Lahore (as I reported above) and returned to Baltistan in 2010 (after quitting her government job at Morentson’s behest) to open a clinic for CAI in Khaplu. Mortenson’s June 8 blog post includes a photo of this clinic, despite the fact that he makes no mention of the bungled Khaplu clinic project in the main body of the post. The clinic was never operational, and CAI failed to pay Shakeela a salary during the many months she spent in Khaplu trying to get it off the ground.

    Notwithstanding Mortenson’s attempt at revisionist history, the true story of recent developments in Shakeela’s medical career is heartening. Shortly after my report above was posted on Byliner, CAI abandoned the Khaplu clinic project altogether, and in late 2011 Shakeela left Khaplu to start a new government job as a midwife in a remote Balti village. As Mortenson writes (truthfully this time), her records show that

    in the past eight months, Shakeela has delivered 51 babies, without a single mother or child dying. This is significant in a region where the maternal mortality rate (deaths per live births) is exceptionally high…. Shakeela works alone to deliver the babies in a one-room [government] clinic that has occasional electricity, but no phone, and few outside resources.

  12. Greg Mortenson Truth Check

    Abducted by the Taliban?

    The Claim: On April 14, 2011, the producers of “60 Minutes” emailed Mortenson a list of three questions, one of which was, “Were you kidnapped for eight days by the Taliban in Waziristan in 1996?”

    Mortenson replied,

    Yes, I was detained for eight days in Waziristan in 1996. It was against my will, and my passport and money were taken from me. I was not mistreated or harmed, but I was also not allowed to leave. A blanket was put over my head any time I was moved by vehicle.

    On April 18, 2011, Outside Online posted excerpts from a series of interviews with Mortenson. Referring to the account of his kidnapping that appears in Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson insisted that the "whole story is pretty much accurate.”

    On May 6, 2011, an official spokesperson for Mortenson reiterated this claim in Journey of Hope, a magazine published by the Central Asia Institute:

    Greg was, in fact, detained and held against his will in 1996, with his passport and money confiscated, although his captors did treat him well, as he accurately described in his book.

    The Truth: According to the gripping tale of abduction that fills an entire chapter of Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson had traveled to South Waziristan to “scout sites for possible new schools.” Shortly after falling asleep during his first night in the notorious tribal region, Mortenson was jerked to his feet, blindfolded, and locked inside a “spare, high-ceilinged room” furnished with little more than a “musty blanket” and a “thin pad” on a dirt floor. For the next nine nights and eight days, he was guarded by two armed thugs “with beards as dense and matted as wolves’ winter coats,” who “smoked bowl after bowl of hashish.” On Mortenson’s ninth morning of captivity, when he was blindfolded again and put in the bed of a pickup truck, he was certain he was about to be executed:

    Back then, before 9/11, beheading foreigners wasn’t in fashion…. And I didn’t think being shot was such a bad way to die. But the idea that Tara would have to raise our child on her own and would probably never find out what happened to me made me crazy. I could picture her pain and uncertainty going on and on and that seemed like the most horrible thing of all.

    As he was taking what he feared were his final breaths, however, the truck skidded to a stop, whereupon the Taliban commander removed Mortenson’s blindfold and gave him a hug. “We’re throwing a party,” the Talib announced. “A party before we take you back to Peshawar.” Instead of being executed by a Taliban firing squad, Mortenson was feted as the guest of honor at a Pashtun hoedown featuring barbecued goat, lots of hashish, and boisterous dancing. Throughout the bacchanal, dozens of Taliban embraced Mortenson like a long-lost brother and stuffed wads of hundred-rupee notes into his pockets. “For your schools!” the commander explained, shouting in Mortenson’s ear to be heard over bursts of celebratory gunfire. “So, Inshallah, you’ll build many more!”

    Giddily [Mortenson] joined the celebration, goat grease trickling down his eight-day beard, performing the old Tanzanian steps he thought he’d forgotten to shouts of encouragement from the Wazir, dancing with the absolute bliss, with the wild abandon, bequeathed by freedom.

    In Stones into Schools—Mortenson’s second book, published three years after Three Cups of Tea—there is a color photograph of thirteen men with Kalashnikovs. The caption identifies them as “Waziri tribesmen who abducted Greg Mortenson near Razmak, North Waziristan. Greg was detained there for eight days in July 1996.” But according to two individuals in the photo, they were Mortenson’s guardians, not his abductors.

    Mansur Khan Mahsud, who appears in the upper right corner of the picture, was twenty-five years old at the time. Fifteen years later it was not easy to locate him, but on February 28, 2011, I obtained a phone number and called him in Pakistan. He said he remembered Mortenson’s visit quite well. When I told him that Mortenson had authored two bestselling books in which he claimed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban during his visit, Mansur Khan guffawed in disbelief. But as he began to contemplate the potential ramifications of Mortenson’s allegation, his laughter was supplanted by outrage. He insisted Mortenson was never held against his will, even momentarily, by anyone in North or South Waziristan:

    No, no, no. He really enjoyed his stay there. And he was given very good treatment. If he tells, “I have been kidnapped,” he is lying. He was an honored guest of the whole village.

    Far from being a member of the Taliban, Mansur Khan Mahsud is an eminent Pakistani scholar who serves as the director of Research and Administration at the FATA Research Centre, an internationally respected think tank in Islamabad. According to CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen,

    Mansur Khan… is somebody I’ve worked with, and he’s actually done academic papers for the foundation that I work at. He’s a well-known academic in the region. The idea that he’s a member of the Taliban who kidnapped Greg Mortenson is just absurd.

    Another of Mortenson’s hosts during his Waziristan sojourn sent me several photos taken on the same day as the picture published in Stones into Schools. Two of the photos, date-stamped “7-21-96,” show Mortenson clutching an AK-47 and wearing a rack of ammunition across his chest, hamming it up beside Mansur Khan and seven of the other men who’d volunteered to serve as Mortenson’s guardians. As Bergen pointed out,

    The Taliban had banned photography at the time these photographs were taken. And also, which kidnapping in history features not only the kidnappers, but the victim holding a gun, as Mortenson is doing in this picture? It just defies logic…. It doesn’t make sense.

    Following the publication of Three Cups of Deceit last April, Mansur Khan Mahsud told the Daily Beast that Mortenson’s

    chapter about Waziristan in his book Three Cups of Tea is nothing but lies from A to Z. Not a word of this is true. He has defamed and slandered my family and tribe by calling us kidnappers. This has made me very angry.

    Among all the lies Mortenson has told over the years, none is more reprehensible than his false claim—which he continues to insist is true—to have been abducted by Mansur Khan and his fellow Mahsud tribesmen. To accuse someone of being associated with the Taliban is a grave matter in Pakistan. It can lead to intimidation, imprisonment, or death.

  13. Greg Mortenson Truth Check

    Schools: Quantity Versus Quality

    The Claim: The September 2 post on the official “CAI Communiqué” blog stated,

    CAI recognizes that through a period of rapid growth organizational weaknesses and deficiencies occurred. We have taken full responsibility and appropriate action on several fronts: we have… conducted focused in-country surveys to verify the status of our schools and projects.

    The Truth: The “focused in-country surveys” intended to verify the status of Central Asia Institute schools generated a “master project list” that appears to be neither comprehensive, nor accurate, nor honest. Most of the schools on the list weren’t visited by any CAI staff for verification. No photos exist of many of the schools. For fifteen of them, the master list includes no data about the number of teachers or students.

    This list, which has not been independently audited, is part of CAI’s most recent tax return, for the fiscal year ending on September 30, 2010. It enumerates approximately 285 projects in which it had some degree of involvement since 1996, some 224 of them being schools. CAI claims that 196 of these schools were operational in 2010. To the charity’s credit, if you study the list carefully and compare it to the project list submitted with the tax return filed last year, you will discover CAI now acknowledges that nine schools purported to be operational in 2009 never opened their doors, and the 4,689 students listed as being enrolled in these schools existed only on paper. This, however, is far from a full disclosure of the ghost schools and ghost students that have been claimed as genuine on CAI’s tax returns or in public statements.

    In the August 11 “Truth Check” posted here, I wrote about the Bozai Gumbaz school, the centerpiece of Mortenson’s bestselling book, Stones into Schools. On its two most recent tax returns, CAI reported that 66 students were enrolled at Bozai in 2009, and 35 students were enrolled in 2010; in fact, the school didn’t open for the first time until June 2011, and only 22 students attended class before the school shut down in August for the remainder of the year. When CAI staffers reported that the school was operational in 2009 and 2010, they were aware this was untrue.

    Afghanistan’s Kunar Province is listed as the site of several ghost schools that appear on CAI’s recent tax returns. Mortenson has made a big deal of the schools he’s claimed to have built in Kunar, which is one of most violent places in Afghanistan. On page 284 of Stones into Schools he wrote,

    By the autumn of 2009, we had constructed nine schools in Kunar’s Naray district and had started another girl’s school in Barg-e Matal, a village located in a part of neighboring Nuristan where there is such a dense concentration of Taliban operatives that a local police chief describes the place as being surrounded by “a ring of Kalashnikovs.”

    On July 27, 2010, during an appearance on the Charlie Rose show, Mortenson declared that CAI had constructed eleven schools in Kunar. But a dispatch by Radio Free Europe published on April 21, 2011, reports,

    Gul Zaman, governor of the remote Naray district in insurgency-plagued eastern Konar Province… says that two of the schools named by the CAI were actually built by a NATO provincial reconstruction team. Zaman’s statement was verified by Syed Jamaluddin Hassani, head of Konar’s education department.

    Truth be told, CAI has constructed only four schools in Kunar and none in Nuristan. According to an Afghan who is familiar with every CAI project in Kunar Province, only three of its schools (in the villages of Samirak, Saw, and Suna Gal) had been completed and were open for classes by the end of 2010. Approximately 1,100 students attend these three schools—5,000 fewer students than CAI claims on its tax return for 2010. A fourth CAI school, attended by some 300 students, was finished in the spring of 2011 in a village called Batyash.

    On May 6, 2011, CAI published a list “of the dozen most commonly asked questions and CAI’s answers” in its annual magazine, Journey of Hope. The eighth question on the list was,

    How do you defend the fact that of the 11 schools claimed to have been built in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, there were really only three?

    An unnamed CAI spokesperson answered,

    CAI has built four schools in Kunar Province and has another five schools under construction, according to its Afghan operations manager, Wakil Karimi. Work on those five has been suspended several times because the ongoing fighting creates a “risky situation.”… Plus, establishing schools in this region is long-term work; three of the four that are now complete took several years from inception to completion.

    Except for the fact that only four CAI schools are now under construction, not five, the above statement is true. But the answer dodges the question. It fails to explain why Mortenson said on Charlie Rose that he had completed eleven schools in Kunar, or why the master project list from the most recent CAI tax return (which was filed on August 15, 2011, more than three months after Journey of Hope admitted that CAI has built just four schools in Kunar) claims that eight CAI schools were operational in Kunar on September 30, 2010. Journey of Hope was written and edited by Karin Ronnow, the same staffer who administered the survey of CAI schools from which the fraudulent 2010 master project list was compiled. The disturbing thing isn’t that only three CAI schools in Kunar were functional by the end of 2010—it’s that Mortenson has repeatedly lied about the schools he has built in Kunar, as he has lied about so many other things, both large and small. It raises further concerns about his integrity.

    Although Mortenson has never visited Kunar, he has not misrepresented the level of violence there. I spent most of May and June 2006 in the Naray District, embedded with American and Afghan forces. On June 21, the day I flew home, a soldier who had become a close friend, U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Jared Monti, was killed while trying to rescue a wounded comrade during an ambush by Taliban insurgents. (Three years later, President Obama awarded Monti the Medal of Honor for this selfless act.) For CAI to have built four schools in an environment as hostile as Naray is an extraordinary feat. It disappoints me that Mortenson frequently feels compelled to exaggerate such achievements, when the unembellished truth would be impressive in its own right.

    So how many schools has CAI actually built in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Nobody knows. Not even Mortenson knows, because over the past eight or nine years he’s repeatedly thwarted efforts by his Montana-based staff to track how many schools have been built, how much each school really costs, and how many schools are functional. For the CAI staff to gather such crucial information, Mortenson would have to accurately account for how he spends CAI funds—something he has never been willing to do.

    Based on the investigation of Mortenson and CAI I’ve been conducting since May 2010, I can attest that CAI has successfully completed numerous water projects, vocational centers, and disaster-relief efforts. On the 2010 master project list, CAI identifies 224 schools. According to the list, 17 of these schools were still under construction, and another 11 projects were acknowledged to be "on hold" or abandoned. Of the 196 schools that CAI asserts were operational as of September 30, 2010, it claims to have built 162 of them. I have positively determined that 13 of these are ghost schools that do not actually exist, and suspect the list includes numerous other ghost schools, as well. I am nevertheless confident that at least 120 schools are up and running. That’s a lot of schools that wouldn’t exist otherwise, and Mortenson deserves credit for this accomplishment.

    A minority of these schools are excellent, in particular some of the Afghanistan projects in Kabul and Lalander administered by Wakil Karimi, an honest and dedicated CAI staffer. But a much greater number of CAI schools are beset with serious problems, because Mortenson’s management of CAI’s overseas operations has been so shoddy for so many years. The neglect is at least partly attributable to his preoccupation with promoting the Mortenson brand in North America. This is reflected in CAI’s latest tax return, which shows that CAI spent just $182,000 on scholarships for needy students in all of Central Asia in 2010, yet spent $2.5 million to advertise and promote Mortenson’s books—even though CAI received none of the revenues from these books. Another example: In 2010 CAI spent less on teachers’ salaries, textbooks, and other operating expenses for its schools in Central Asia ($1.5 million) than it spent to purchase copies of Mortenson’s books that were given away at public lectures ($1.7 million). Although Mortenson was paid at least $25,000 per gig for many of the lectures, these earnings weren’t shared with CAI.

    Mortenson’s admirers argue that none of this matters, because he has built more than 120 schools and is on track to build an astonishing number of additional schools before the year is out. In a statement posted on the CAI website immediately after the “60 Minutes” broadcast last April, Mortenson announced, “This year alone (2011), just in Afghanistan, CAI plans and already started work to establish and build 63 to 68 more, mostly girls’ schools.”

    Imran Nadim Shigri is not impressed by such numbers. A Shi’ite cleric who has witnessed Mortenson’s work in Baltistan firsthand, Shigri faults Mortenson, according to Radio Free Europe,

    for focusing largely on building infrastructure without concentrating on the education that would be provided in these buildings. “He only focused on constructing schools. He failed to ensure their sustainability and [proper] management,” he says. “He also failed to ensure a high quality of education in these institutions.”

    Indeed, according to the CAI master project list, CAI picked up the full tab for teacher salaries, textbooks, and school supplies at only 17 of the 196 schools claimed to be operational in 2010—which amounts to less than 9% of them.

    Like Shigri, Peter Hessler (a staff writer for The New Yorker and ex-Peace Corps volunteer who just received a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation "genius award"), is skeptical of Mortenson’s methods. In an article titled “What Mortenson Got Wrong” published on April 21, 2011, Hessler described a conversation he’d had with an American development worker named Rajeev Goyal (not associated with CAI) who had organized the construction of five schools in eastern Nepal. According to Hessler, Rajeev noted that Mortenson’s story

    “is about quantity, about the number of schools built.” Rajeev said his own work had convinced him that construction projects are overvalued, and sometimes they can even have a negative impact on a community. He believed that teacher training and other cultural factors have more value. “A good teacher sitting under a tree can do more than a bad teacher in a new building,” he said.

    Near the end of the piece Hessler observed,

    [S]ome have defended Mortenson by noting that a number of C.A.I. schools were built and are still functioning, and they claim this is better than nothing at all. But there’s no reason to set the bar so low. One of the main problems with N.G.O.s is a lack of accountability, because donors and journalists tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m bothered by the inaccuracies in Mortenson’s books, especially because there’s a pattern of disrespect for local culture. The worst is his claim that he was kidnapped by the Taliban, which now appears to be a twisted version of a trip in which he was actually hosted by generous villagers…. But I find it more troubling that countless journalists have profiled Mortenson in strictly hagiographic terms. This is partly because they’ve taken quick tours of model schools; as any teacher will tell you, a visitor doesn’t learn much from a walk-through and a few translated conversations with hand-picked students.

    NOTE: This post was updated by Jon Krakauer on September 26, 2011

  14. Greg Mortenson Truth Check

    The Integrity of the Executive Director and his Board

    The Claim: Prior to the “60 Minutes” segment about Mortenson that was broadcast April 17, 2011, the show’s producers inquired of the Central Asia Institute Board of Directors,

    Does CAI receive a percentage of the royalties or share in the proceeds from Mr. Mortenson’s books? How much money does CAI receive from the sales of these books?

    The CAI board (Mortenson, Karen McCown, and Abdul Jabbar) answered,

    Mr. Mortenson’s royalty checks are not split with CAI. Instead, he has donated a percentage of his royalties from the books to CAI. Greg has personally donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the organization, which includes a percentage of his royalties from his books, and worked for the organization without compensation for a number of years.

    The Truth: CAI was established in the final months of 1996. In 1997, as soon as the charity was up and running, Mortenson started receiving a salary of $28,129, plus $4,493 in benefits, for an annual pay package totaling $32,622. In 1998 the board of directors raised his compensation to $38,156. By 2002 it had grown to $53,287; by 2007 it had been boosted to $145,309. In 2010 (the most recent year his compensation has been posted) Mortenson received $177,851 in salary and benefits. According to CAI’s financial records, at no point since the charity’s inception has Mortenson ever declined to accept a paycheck from the organization.

    Moreover, in addition to the salary and benefits he received from CAI, until March 2004 Mortenson was paid a stipend of $21,792 per year from the Hoerni Pakistan Fund at the American Himalayan Foundation (AHF). Financial records indicate that Mortenson received this stipend without interruption from 1995 until it was terminated by AHF in 2004 when Mortenson repeatedly failed to report how he had used other, much larger, disbursements from the Hoerni Pakistan Fund, as required by the IRS.

    Regarding the avowal from Mortenson that he “personally donated hundreds of thousands of dollars” to CAI, when this scandal erupted last April and Anne Beyersdorfer took over as interim executive director of CAI, she repeatedly pledged, “We are all about full transparency.” Taking her at her word, I sent Beyersdorfer an email requesting confirmation that such donations had occurred, and asking that she provide me with the specific amounts of all the donations Mortenson made to CAI. After more than a day passed with no response to my inquiry, I followed up with an additional email and several phone calls which also went unanswered. This afternoon, when Beyersdorfer finally replied, it took the form of a nasty missive that denied my request categorically, and then cast aspersions on my character for having the temerity to even make such a request. The nut of her email declared,

    On advice of counsel, in virtue of CAI's pending legal inquiries, CAI staff has been advised to not discuss matters or share documents with you other than what is posted for the public on our website.

    By refusing to confirm that Mortenson donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to CAI, Beyersdorfer forces me to conclude that the board was not being honest when it claimed he did—just as the board was plainly not being honest when it stated Mortenson “worked for CAI without compensation for a number of years.” If in the future CAI posts documents showing that these assertions by the board were in fact accurate, I will offer a public apology and admit my error posthaste.

    In an article titled, “How Ethical is Your Nonprofit Organization?” published in October 2004 on the GuideStar website, Vermont Law School professor Elizabeth Schmidt emphasized that “leaders of an organization—the executive director, his or her lieutenants, and the board—set the stage for actual ethical behavior.” Schmidt went on to explain,

    Many nonprofit ethical principles, such as honesty and treating people with respect, are parallel to those in the for-profit world…. The nonprofit world has another guiding principle, however, that is irrelevant to the for-profit sector: no one individual is to profit from the organization. Losing sight of this principle has led to many of the scandals in the nonprofit world.

    Honesty: Being honest is perhaps the most obvious ethical principle and the one that, when not followed, most quickly damages an organization's reputation….

    Openness: A corollary of honesty is transparency. Nonprofits can maintain the public trust by being particularly open about their operations. By law you must make your Form 990 available to the public, but you can and should do more to let the public know about your organization…. Your CEO or executive director and board should be fully informed about the organization's finances, and their reports to the public should be scrupulously honest and consistent.

    By failing to live up to these fundamental ethical standards, Mortenson and his board of directors have betrayed the trust of CAI donors and done lasting harm to the charity’s mission.

    BREAKING NEWS, SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 3, 2011: AFTER SEEING THE UPDATE ABOVE, A WHISTLEBLOWER CONTACTED ME TO CONFIRM THAT “GREG HAS NEVER MADE A DONATION TO CAI,” CORROBORATING THAT MORTENSON’S CLAIM TO HAVE DONATED HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS TO CAI IS UNTRUE.

  15. Greg Mortenson Truth Check

    Excess Benefits

    The Claim: On April 16, 2011, the CAI Board of Directors issued a statement in response to a list of questions “60 Minutes” had emailed to them, one of which asked if the board had addressed warnings they’d received from CAI’s own tax attorneys that Mortenson appeared “to be violating IRS regulations regarding excess benefits.” The board (Mortenson, Karen McCown, and Abdul Jabbar) answered,

    Yes we have. Last year—before we were contacted by your organization—CAI’s attorney raised preliminary questions of whether its fundraising practices and its relationship with Greg might raise “excess benefits” issues. The Board and Greg took these questions very seriously, and asked counsel to conduct a thorough review of CAI’s activities, its finances, and its relationship with Greg. As a result of this review and analysis, which occurred over several months, CAI’s counsel concluded that CAI is not providing excess benefits to Greg—that is, CAI appropriately receives a greater benefit from Greg’s activities than Greg does himself.

    The Truth: Ultimately, the IRS and/or the courts will determine whether Mortenson violated IRS regulations by using CAI funds to pay for such things as private jet charters to fly him to lucrative speaking engagements and six-figure magazine ads to promote his books. Contrary to the statement above from the CAI board, however, confidential legal memos I received from an anonymous whistleblower suggest that CAI’s counsel in fact concluded that if Mortenson is audited by the IRS, he “will likely be viewed as being the beneficiary of an excess benefit from these transactions within the meaning of Section 4958” of the IRS Code, which emphatically prohibits board members and staffers of a public charity from enriching themselves at the charity’s expense. As these memos made crystal clear, the penalty for “receiving an excess benefit is severe.” In extreme cases a charity can lose its tax-exempt status for providing excess benefits to someone in Mortenson’s position.

    The two legal memos were written by attorneys at Copilevitz & Canter, a Kansas City law firm that specializes in advising nonprofits. The first of these memos (dated December 22, 2010) cautioned in its opening sentence,

    Central Asia Institute, and more importantly its founder, Greg Mortenson, must recognize the dangers that may arise from excess-benefit transactions and the increased regulatory scrutiny….

    Pursuant to section 4958, the IRS may impose immediate sanctions on any “disqualified person” who receives an excess benefit from an exempt organization, and any “organization manager” who approves the excess-benefit transaction.

    The second legal memo from Copilevitz & Canter (dated January 3, 2011, it was sent to Mortenson, the CAI board, and CAI Operations Director Jennifter Sipes) warned,

    As founder and Executive Director of Central Asia Institute (a public charity), Greg Mortenson is in a position to exercise substantial influence over the organization’s affairs at any time; thus he is a disqualified person pursuant to IRC section 4958. Assume that in auditing the Central Asia Institute, the IRS finds that in fiscal year 2009, Mr. Mortenson received an excess benefit from his charity in the amount of $2,421,152.71 (assuming that CAI’s advertising expenses related to Mr. Mortenson’s books were $1,022,319.71 and travel expenses related to Mr. Mortenson’s speaking engagements were $1,398,831 as reported on the organization’s 990 for FYE 2009; and further, the charity received none of the revenue that Mr. Mortenson received from said book sales or speaking events).

    The test is not necessarily whether CAI received a benefit from these activities, which it certainly did in the form of public awareness and increased public funding, but rather whether Mr. Mortenson received an excess benefit….

    In the following analysis, it is important to note that while the organization may be able to recognize some benefit from Mr. Mortenson’s individual activities, it has neither shared in the actual financial benefit nor recognized any portion of it as compensation to Mr. Mortenson. Payment of expenses by the exempt organization (CAI) will be deemed an automatic excess benefit unless certain facts are met. Assume those facts are met, there will remain significant issues resulting from Mr. Mortenson receiving all of the fees and related financial payments in connection with the book and speaking engagements, the expenses of which are paid by CAI.

    Assuming he receives revenue from the sale of his books and $30,000 for each speaking engagement including a $3,000 fee for travel and lodging, as well as expenses paid by CAI, Mr. Mortenson receives a financial benefit. Because the charity receives no share of the financial benefit resulting from its advertising and travel expenses for Mr. Mortenson’s book sales, Mr. Mortenson will likely be viewed as being the beneficiary of an excess benefit from these transactions within the meaning of Section 4958 of the IRC. Thus, the IRS would require Mr. Mortenson to “correct” the transaction by repaying the $2,421,152.71 benefit he received in 2009, plus interest. Further, assuming Mr. Mortenson received the same or similar excess benefit for the previous two years, and the IRS looked back to these years in its audit (as is often the case), Mr. Mortenson could owe CAI up to $7,263,458.13 for excessive benefits received during fiscal years 2007, 2008, and 2009….

    If the IRS imposes the 25% penalty tax and the disqualified person fails to “correct” or repay the excess benefit he received “within the taxable period,” the IRS may impose an additional tax equal to 200% of the excess benefit….

    In short, if Mr. Mortenson fails to timely pay the correction amount, he could face a total liability ranging from $7,868,746.31 (correction amount + 25% tax + 200% tax for 2009 transaction only) to $23,606,238.62 (correction amount for three years of excess benefits + 25% tax on those benefits + 200% tax on same).

    Actually, if an IRS audit finds that Mortenson received excess benefits (as this memo suggests it would), his tax bill could be even larger than $23 million, because the memo was based on CAI’s tax return for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009. The tax return CAI filed last week reveals the excess benefits Mortenson received in 2010 were substantially greater than the excess benefits he took from the charity in 2009. In 2010, CAI donors unknowingly paid $2.5 million to advertise Mortenson’s books (compared to $1 million in 2009) and $2.2 million for Mortenson’s travel (compared to $1.4 million in 2009).

    The many millions of dollars CAI has spent to boost the personal fortune Mortenson has amassed from book sales and speaking gigs is especially disturbing when one considers how stingy the charity has sometimes been with salaries for its teachers in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2008, to cite but one example, CAI built a handsome stone schoolhouse in a remote Pakistani village called Bien in the Basha Valley, 25 miles northwest of Korphe. An excellent teacher was hired, who is now beloved by the 70 students he instructs in five classes. CAI, however, pays the Bien teacher only about 4,000 rupees a month ($46 at the current exchange rate) for this demanding full-time job. By comparison, the lowest paid teachers employed by the Pakistani government receive a monthly salary of 10,000 rupees ($115). A woman who works throughout northeastern Pakistan for an American-based NGO encountered the Bien teacher while traveling through Baltistan last month and told me that he is unable to support his family on such a meager salary. Although this teacher has repeatedly asked CAI to pay him enough to live on, his entreaties have been ignored by Mortenson and the CAI staff. “He is apparently a really good teacher,” she explained. “But he cannot afford to do this anymore. He says he needs to quit so he can take another job for more money.”

  16. Greg Mortenson Truth Check

    CAI’s Latest Financial Statement

    THE CLAIM: The financial page on the CAI website states,

    Central Asia Institute is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to use every dollar contributed as efficiently as possible. Our pledge to our donors is to continue to keep our overhead (administrative and fundraising costs) low, maximize the percentage of contributions that go towards our programs and spend program dollars wisely so that thousands of children may benefit.

    THE TRUTH: This morning CAI posted its latest tax return (IRS Form 990, for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2010) on the same web page as the statement above. What this document reveals is troubling. In 2010, CAI had total revenues of $22.7 million, most of which came from donations. In 2010, CAI spent:

    $2.5 million on “advertising and promotion” (much of it to buy magazine ads for Mortenson’s books)

    $2.2 million on “travel” (much of it for private jets to fly Mortenson to lectures)

    $1.7 million on “publications and subscriptions” (much of this, apparently, went to purchase copies of Mortenson’s books at retail cost; although CAI doesn’t provide details of exactly where the money went)

    $300,000 on “printing and reproduction”

    By comparison, in 2010 CAI spent:

    $2.8 million on “building materials and equipment”

    $1.5 million on “school operating expenses”

    All told, in 2010 CAI spent $8 million on “outreach,” promotion, advertising, fundraising, and lectures, compared to $5.1 million for school construction, teachers' salaries, educational programs, and other community support in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    It should be noted that although the 2010 tax return has now been filed, it has not yet been audited.

    Included in this new tax return is a “Master Project List” of the schools CAI claimed to be supporting in some fashion in 2010. I haven’t had time to analyze this list carefully yet, but a cursory glance has revealed a number of ghost schools being claimed as operational. For example, CAI claims that the Bozai Gumbaz school—one of its most prominent projects, the centerpiece of Mortenson’s second book, Stones into Schools—had 35 students and 3 teachers in 2010. In fact, it sat empty through all of 2010, and didn’t hold its first class until late June 2011, as I pointed out last week. CAI's misrepresentation of the truth about this showcase school raises unsettling questions about its willingness to report honestly on the status of all its schools.

  17. Greg Mortenson Truth Check

    The Korphe Creation Myth

    The Claim: Mortenson has repeatedly insisted that he accidentally wandered into Korphe after making a wrong turn on the final day of his trek down from K2. On April 25, 2011, the Central Asia Institute issued a “Statement Regarding Media Misinformation About Greg Mortenson and CAI,” which declared,

    The contents of Greg Mortenson's books "Three Cups of Tea" and “Stones Into Schools” are based on events that actually happened…. Media allegations that Greg did not visit Korphe in 1993 are false; he first visited Korphe in September 1993 after failing to reach the summit of K2 and he later built a school there.

    The Truth: After abandoning his attempt on K2 in 1993, Mortenson hiked from K2 basecamp to the village of Askole with a friend and climbing partner named Scott Darsney, whom I met in 1996 while climbing Mt. Everest. On November 9, 2010, I spoke with Darsney about Mortenson for more than three hours. Over a few pints of Guinness in a Colorado bar, Darsney explained to me that Mortenson tended to walk at a slower pace than he did, so they were sometimes far apart on the trail each day, but they both arrived in Askole on the same afternoon, whereupon they hired a jeep to take them to the city of Skardu. When he and Mortenson drove out of Askole together in that jeep, Darsney assured me with absolute certainty, Mortenson “didn’t know Korphe existed.” Never during my discussion with Darsney did he suggest there was even a remote chance that Mortenson somehow wandered into Korphe. Mortenson didn’t breathe a single word about the village to Darsney, or mention its name, until more than a year after their K2 expedition, when Mortenson returned from a second trip to Pakistan in the autumn of 1994.

    On April 26, 2011, eight days after Three Cups of Deceit was published, Outside Online published an email from Darsney under the headline, “Scott Darsney Questions the Accuracy and Fairness of ‘Three Cups of Deceit,’” in which Darsney asserted,

    Yes, I did say to Jon Krakauer that Greg didn’t go to Korphe until 1994. However, on our way out, Greg got lost a second time somewhere between the Biafo glacier region and Askole. About half a day later, Greg finally showed up in Askole saying he’d made a major wrong turn. He’d ended up in a village on the wrong side of the Braldu River. It’s certainly plausible that this was Korphe.

    Darsney is a smart, ethical man for whom I have great respect. Wondering why he’d never mentioned this possibility to me, I sent him an email. “Hi Scott,” I wrote,

    I've read your comments in Outside and elsewhere with interest. It sounds like you've spoken with Greg. I understand your loyalty to Greg, and admire it, but in my opinion getting to the truth in something as important as this should not be taken lightly. When we spoke in November, there was absolutely no doubt in your mind about Korphe. You were absolutely positive that Greg never went there, or even knew of its existence.

    Darsney replied that he had not spoken to Greg since the scandal broke, but he had received “a few emails” from the CAI staff. Which perhaps accounted for the lawyerly tenor of his remarks to Outside, as well as the circumspect tone of his email to me. “Upon reflection of those events,” he wrote, “I was not with Greg the whole walk out. The only thing I can be sure of is when Greg and I were together.”

    Perhaps. But if Darsney had consulted a map, it wouldn’t have taken him very long to recognize that Mortenson’s claim to have visited Korphe didn’t add up.

    On April 18 Outside Online published the interview Mortenson had given to the magazine on the weekend he canceled his interview with me. As he told editorial director Alex Heard, on the final night of their hike down from K2, Mortenson, Darsney, and their Balti porters, Mouzafer and Yakub, camped below the terminus of the Biafo Glacier at a place called Korophon, which is on the north side of the Braldu River, seven relatively easy miles from Askole village. “The next morning I was so weak that I pretty much ditched everything I had,” Mortenson recalled.

    We started walking at around 10 or 11, I got left behind as usual, and I was alone when I hit a fork in the road. When you’re coming out from there, there’s a fork in the trail about two hours before Askole, a village where expeditions park their jeeps when they hit the trailhead. If you go north, to the left—which I did—it goes to Korphe. The main trail goes right, or to the south, heading to Askole. I made a wrong turn there. So I ended up in Korphe. I was met there by Haji Ali, the village chief. I got to Korphe, I would say, early afternoon…. I thought I was in Askole, but they said, No, you’re in Korphe. I was there a few hours, probably two or three hours, had tea, and I said, I gotta go to Askole. They took me to a cable-pulley bridge over the Braldu River. And I can’t remember now, but Mouzafer either came over to me or I went over to him, but that’s where we met. Later, we rejoined Scott and the others and we drove to Skardu.

    There is an insurmountable problem with this account, however: Korophon and Askole are on the north bank of the Braldu. Korphe is on the south bank. In 1993, according to Masood Ahmad, a Pakistani-American educator and mountain guide who made the trek from the the Baltoro Glacier to Askole about two weeks after Mortenson, “There were no bridges across the Braldu River above Askole up to Korophon. Greg Mortenson did not stumble into Korphe. It is something impossible.” Regardless of whether or not Mortenson took a wrong fork in the trail, there is no way he could have ended up in Korphe unless he swam across the Braldu—which is swift, seething, and paralyzingly cold. On pages 22-23 of Three Cups of Tea, this is how Mortenson describes the river as he stepped off the terminus of the Baltoro Glacier and saw the Braldu’s headwaters thundering from beneath the ice:

    The snout of the Baltoro Glacier lay at the bottom of a canyon, black with debris and sculpted to a point like the nose of a 747. From this aperture, the subterranean rivers traveling under sixty-two kilometers of ice shot into the open with an airblast like a jet engine’s exhaust. This foaming, turbulent waterspout was the birthplace of the Braldu River. Five years later, a Swedish kayaker arrived with a documentary film crew and put in at this same spot, attempting to run the Braldu to the Indus River, all eighteen hundred miles to the Arabian Sea. He was dead, smashed against boulders by the primordial strength of the Braldu, minutes after he hit the water.

    Given his debilitated condition, it strains belief to think that Mortenson would have even considered swimming across the Braldu. Had he tried to make the crossing he almost certainly would have drowned, and if by some miracle he’d gotten to the other side and survived, it’s inconceivable that he would have neglected to describe the feat in Three Cups of Tea.

    In his interview with Outside, Mortenson admitted that Three Cups of Tea includes some “discrepancies,” “omissions,” and “compression of events.” Specifically, he confessed that he was only in Korphe for “probably two or three hours,” didn’t spend a single night in the village, and said nothing about building a school there to Haji Ali or anyone else until more than twelve months later, in the autumn of 1994. Which means that even if one ignores the question of whether Mortenson did or didn’t visit Korphe in September 1993, his own statements confirm beyond all doubt that most of the first hundred pages of Three Cups of Tea (and crucial passages about Korphe in Stones into Schools) are fiction.

    Mortenson wasn’t lovingly nursed back to health over the course of many days in the home of Haji Ali. He didn’t spend “long hours climbing the steep paths between Korphe’s homes, doing what little he could to beat back the avalanche of need” as he recuperated. He set no broken bones that September, nor did sick Baltis on the outskirts of Korphe dispatch their loved ones to fetch “Dr. Greg.” Haji Ali didn’t lead Mortenson to a ledge above the village to witness eighty-two children kneeling on the frosty ground, scratching multiplication tables in the dirt with sticks. At the conclusion of his visit, Mortenson departed Pakistan without ever putting his hands on Haji Ali’s shoulders and promising to build a school to repay the inhabitants of Korphe for their kindness.

    Claiming that these deeds occurred in the wake of his defeat on K2 wasn’t “a compression of events” or “literary license.” It was an elaborate act of deceit.

  18. Greg Mortenson Truth Check

    The Bozai School

    The Claim: In an August 1 post on the official “CAI Communiqué” blog, Karin Ronnow wrote,

    Central Asia Institute’s “most-remote-areas” project manager, Sarfraz Khan, recently made the long trek to CAI’s Bozoi Gumbad School on the “Roof of the World” in Afghanistan’s Pamir Mountains…. When Khan arrived at Bozoi Gumbad via horseback, he confirmed that, contrary to recent media reports, about three-dozen boys and girls and three teachers were a month into their second year at the primary school…. It serves the nomadic Kyrgyz people, who move their yurts with the seasons to make the most of pastureland. The school convenes only during the summer and fall months. The bitter-cold winters are too difficult to manage in an area with no electricity, no roads, and scarce heating fuel…. “[The Kyrgyz] probably form the most isolated high-altitude community of the planet,” wrote [Louis] Meunier, a French filmmaker and equestrian explorer. “They live out of time, untouched by civilization, like their forefathers used to do centuries ago….” In 2008, Khan and his masons laid the foundation for the Bozoi Gumbad School. The logistics of delivering building materials were onerous and the project took several years, but the school was completed in late 2009 and opened in 2010…. The reports all confirm that CAI’s Bozoi Gumbad School is not a “ghost school.” Teachers are teaching. Students are learning. And the Kyrgyz people have a brighter future because of it.

    The Truth: Stones into Schools, the bestselling book Mortenson wrote after Three Cups of Tea, recounts Mortenson’s Herculean struggle to build the Bozai school. In Three Cups of Deceit I noted that, although construction of the school was indeed completed in late 2009,

    the way things have played out in the real world isn’t quite as uplifting as the denouement Mortenson wrote for the book. Bozai, to put it bluntly, is already a ghost school. Although Mortenson’s staff reported on CAI’s 2009 tax return (dated May 17, 2010) that sixty-six students were enrolled there, the building remains empty.

    In an article published in The New York Times on April 23, 2011, reporter Edward Wong confirmed that, as of February 2011, the Bozai school was still vacant and that no classes had ever been held there:

    One afternoon last August, after a light snowfall, I walked through the small building. It had no desks and chairs. Wooden planks and sawdust lay on the floor. The schoolhouse, completed in 2009 and the centerpiece of Mr. Mortenson’s second book, “Stones Into Schools,” had never been used. The Kyrgyz nomads who lived in yurt settlements on the plateau had little desire to enroll their children in the school. “I need to hold a jirga,” said Sarfraz Khan, the regional project manager for the institute, referring to a conclave of elders. “We need to convince the people to send their children to school.”… The school had been built, but the Kyrgyz preferred that their children spend their days taking care of sheep, their most valuable commodity….

    Mr. Mortenson called me after my trip and said children would attend school in the winter and herd sheep in the warm months. “They have their traditional ways,” he said.

    But this February [2011], the school still sat empty, according to Matthieu Paley, a photographer who often visits the region. He told me in an e-mail: “The school was completely abandoned, unused and locked — and there is no way it can ever be used, I would say, for at least seven months a year.” The temperature, he said, was easily a dozen degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

    In late June 2011, a class for young students finally convened in the Bozai school, as Ronnow asserted on the CAI blog. But her claim that “three-dozen boys and girls and three teachers were a month into their second year at the primary school” is not borne out by the facts.

    In early August, I heard from Louis Meunier (the same Louis Meunier quoted with admiration by Ronnow in her blog post), who had recently returned from Bozai. Although he corroborated that classes were finally being held at the Bozai school, Meunier said Ronnow’s insistence that it was operational in 2010 is definitely incorrect. He also noted that twenty-two children were in attendance, not three dozen, as Ronnow reported, and there was just one teacher, not three. The teacher was from a distant village in lower Badakhshan who planned to leave Bozai and return home in August. Because the Kyrgyz are semi-nomadic and do not pitch their yurts at Bozai during the summer months, all the students had traveled from their clans’ seasonal camps and were boarding at the school. Sarfraz Khan had arranged for a Badakhshi woman to cook and care for the children while they stayed in Bozai. When Meunier visited the school in late June and early July, there were still no chairs or desks in the classrooms, he said,

    but at least classes are being held. There are cracks on the outside of the building and people are complaining it will not last very long. This school is laïli, which means that each kid is receiving money to pay for his food and accommodation, so that they can afford to stay in school for the time classes are being held - one month or so for this year…. It works like a boarding school. The money was paid individually to each kid by the government…. I guess some of them just kept the money and went back to herding. But the kids I met at Bozoi had given all their subsidies to this Badakhshi woman who married a Kyrgyz chap. In exchange, she was accommodating and feeding them.

    In his email to me, Meunier—who passed through Bozai while making a documentary film about the Afghan Kyrgyz—included the transcript of an interview he had shot with Roshan Khan. Roshan is the son of Abdul Rashid Khan, the leader of the Afghan Kyrgyz who died in December 2009; both Roshan and Abdul Rashid are featured prominently in Stones into Schools. After his father’s death, Roshan Khan became the Kyrgyz leader. When Meunier asked him about the Bozai school during their interview, Roshan replied,

    I have never met with Doctor Greg [Mortenson]. My father met him only once…. But his assistant, Sarfraz Khan, was sent here; he sat with the people and said he would build a school in Mulk Ali [a winter camp of the Kyrgyz, located nineteen miles northeast of Bozai]. Then he disappeared and nothing happened... And then three years ago he built a school in Bozoi Gumbaz, without consulting with anybody…. Until now, this school has never been used…. It’s a winter place, so people are away during the summer. It would be better to have a school by the river, where the people are staying during the season. We are too far away to send our kids to Bozai Gumbaz. We told Sarfraz Khan about this, but he didn’t listen to us.

    On August 9, according to Meunier, Sarfraz promised Roshan that “next year” CAI would construct another school much closer to Roshan’s camp. It remains to be seen whether this second school will actually be built; bear in mind that twelve years elapsed between the date Mortenson supposedly promised Abdul Rashid Khan that he would build a school for the Kyrgyz and the date the Bozai school finally opened. Moreover, although it looks like classes will be held in Bozai for a total of six or seven weeks this summer, few, if any, of the Kyrgyz who send their children there believe it presents a practical or sustainable option for educating their kids in the future. Instead of building schools out of stones and concrete for the Kyrgyz—a difficult and exorbitantly expensive undertaking in the roadless Pamir region—Mortenson would have better served these roving herders by giving them cheap, portable Chinese yurts, and then providing teachers to hold classes in the yurts wherever the Kyrgyz made their camps.

    PENNIES FOR PEACE

    The Claim: In her July 7 post on the CAI blog, Ronnow wrote,

    CHICAGO, Ill. — The past few days were all Pennies for Peace (P4P) all the time for Central Asia Institute staff at the National Education Association’s annual convention. For me, the most heartening aspects of representing P4P at the convention were the vocal support, encouragement and, yes, even hugs we got from teachers familiar with P4P and CAI.

    Perhaps that’s not surprising to some. After all, the NEA, which represents 3.2 million teacher members, is a longtime supporter of CAI and P4P….

    Yet given the unprecedented controversy of the past few months surrounding Greg and CAI, we knew we’d have to answer some tough questions at this year’s conference. And we did. We also heard a few angry remarks and one lecture. But 99 percent of those we met at the NEA convention just wanted to know about Greg’s health post open-heart surgery and about what comes next for P4P and CAI. “I know all about Pennies for Peace,” one teacher told me. “I know all about the controversy. But I love the message of Pennies for Peace and the lessons it teaches. It’s good to see you here. Keep up the good work.”

    The Truth: Irrespective of whether 99 percent of the teachers Ronnow met at the NEA convention actually expressed support for Mortenson, a great many NEA members, including the organization’s leadership, have serious concerns about Mortenson’s management of CAI and P4P. In an article published in the April 27, 2011 edition of Education Week, Mary Ann Zehr wrote,

    Educators and education organizations are weighing whether to cut off support for the Pennies for Peace program of the Central Asia Institute after allegations surfaced that Greg Mortenson, the co-author of the best-selling nonfiction book, Three Cups of Tea, mismanaged money collected by thousands of schoolchildren.

    *The news program “60 Minutes” broadcast allegations last week that Mr. Mortenson, the executive director of the Central Asia Institute, which runs Pennies for Peace, fabricated two major stories about himself in his book, one of which has been a jumping-off point for thousands of schoolchildren to collect money to build schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan….

    A 75-page e-book, Three Cups of Deceit, written by well-known journalist Jon Krakauer and published April 18, contends that Mr. Mortenson’s books and public statements are “permeated with falsehoods.” The e-book said Mr. Mortenson has misled schoolchildren through his promotion of the Pennies for Peace program. It reports, for example, that in 2009, students donated $1.7 million to Pennies for Peace, but the Central Asia Institute spent only $612,000 on building or supporting schools. The exposé noted that Mr. Mortenson says in public appearances that “every penny” of every donation made to Pennies for Peace supports schools.

    Mr. Mortenson has “repeatedly subverted efforts by his Montana-based staff to track effectively how many schools have been built, how much each school actually costs, and how many schools are up and running,” writes Mr. Krakauer….

    The Washington-based National Education Association Foundation is among groups that have promoted Pennies for Peace. Along with the Pearson Foundation, the NEA Foundation supported the creation of a curriculum and “toolkit” that teachers have used to accompany students’ reading of books by Mr. Mortenson and fundraising for Pennies for Peace. Harriet Sanford, the president and chief executive officer of the foundation, said the philanthropy gave Pennies for Peace a $10,000 planning grant in 2007 to make the toolkit but hasn’t given any money to the program since then.

    John I. Wilson, the executive director of the NEA, said in an April 22 interview that he will discuss with Ms. Sanford the possible suspension of the teachers’ union’s promotion of Pennies for Peace “until we get all the facts.” He added, “I think there is enough out there [raising questions] to justify a suspension, but we’re not willing to throw them under the bus yet. We don’t know the motives of folks who are making these allegations.”

    As a first step, he said, the NEA might remove links on its website to Pennies for Peace and later decide whether to permanently withdraw its stamp of approval.

    Mr. Wilson’s advice to teachers who are backing students in fundraising for Pennies for Peace is to “finish the project but hold on to the money.”

  19. Greg Mortenson Truth Check

    On April 17, the CBS News program “60 Minutes” broadcast an exposé of Greg Mortenson, alleging that crucial parts of his bestselling book, Three Cups of Tea, were fabricated and that the charity he founded—the Central Asia Institute (CAI), which received $23 million in donations in 2010—has spent more money promoting Mortenson and his books than actually building and supporting schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Because I had once been one of Mortenson’s most enthusiastic supporters, and had given him more than $75,000 in the charity’s early years when it was teetering on the brink of insolvency, I was interviewed by correspondent Steve Kroft for the show. My comments—based on a comprehensive investigation of Mortenson I’d undertaken over the previous eleven months—supported the charges made by “60 Minutes.” I explained to Kroft that a former treasurer of the CAI board of directors had warned me, “Greg uses Central Asia Institute as his private ATM machine.”

    A day later, Byliner published Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way, which significantly expanded upon the “60 Minutes” exposé. In the 22,000-word story’s concluding remarks I observed,

    Greg Mortenson has done much that is admirable since he began working in Baltistan sixteen and a half years ago. He’s been a tireless advocate for girls’ education. He’s established dozens of schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan that have benefited tens of thousands of children, a significant percentage of them girls. A huge number of people regard him as a hero, and he inspires tremendous trust. It is now evident, however, that Mortenson recklessly betrayed this trust, damaging his credibility beyond repair.

    Before Three Cups of Deceit was published, I’d emailed Mortenson to request an interview. “As I believe you have known for quite a while now,” I said,

    I am writing an article that shines a bright light on you and your management of CAI.… I know you are busy, but the allegations I make in my article are quite serious. If you wish to tell me your side of the story before my article is typeset and closes for publication, you need to contact me without delay…. I look forward to speaking with you. It’s been a long time since we last talked, and there is much to discuss.

    Eighteen minutes after I clicked the “send” button, I received a reply from Mortenson. “I greatly appreciate that you reached out to me now so we can meet ASAP to answer any questions you have,” he wrote. He invited me to fly to Bozeman, Montana, on Saturday, April 16, to interview him face to face. I bought my plane ticket and confirmed with Mortenson that I had done so. But on the afternoon before I was scheduled to depart, I received an email from Mortenson’s personal assistant, Jeff McMillan, abruptly canceling our meeting. “We are currently at cardiologist in Bozeman,” McMillan announced. “Greg is having a heart procedure done Monday morning and will not be available for any type of interview.” I immediately phoned McMillan to express my concern for Mortenson’s health, and to suggest that we conduct the interview by phone instead of in person, at a time that would be convenient for Greg. McMillan insisted that would not be possible.

    Three days later I published Three Cups of Deceit, disappointed that I had been denied the opportunity to include any kind of rebuttal from Mortenson. My frustration was compounded when I learned that Mortenson had provided lengthy interviews to The Bozeman Daily Chronicle and Outside magazine (both of which had previously published glowing articles about him) on the day that we had been scheduled to talk.

    Nearly four months have now passed since Mortenson backed out of his meeting with me. Since granting those two interviews, he has refused to speak to any journalists. Instead, he’s chosen to express himself exclusively through carefully crafted statements from his publicists, attorneys, and spokespersons. Many of these statements have been confoundingly evasive or misleading. Several have been bald-faced lies. In an effort to counter this campaign of misinformation, I’ve started debunking some of the communiqués issued on Mortenson’s behalf since the publication of Three Cups of Deceit. I intend to continue this fact-check for as long as the need arises. My corrections will be posted here.

    BACKGROUND ON MORTENSON’S PRIMARY SPOKESPERSONS

    Anne Beyersdorfer, CAI interim executive director: On April 19, the same day Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock announced that his office had launched an investigation of Mortenson and CAI, the organization reported that Mortenson was taking a temporary leave to address his health problems, and that Anne Beyersdorfer, Mortenson’s longtime friend, would be running CAI in his absence. She was a surprising choice to direct a multimillion-dollar charity that built schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, because she had no managerial experience in the nonprofit sector or international development. Based in Washington, D.C., she is an accomplished public relations specialist who had formerly worked for the Republican Senate and presidential candidates, and as a media consultant to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    Karin Ronnow, CAI communications director: Before Mortenson named Ronnow as his charity’s new publicist in early May, she was the assistant managing editor of The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, where, since 2007, she had written more than twenty-five articles about Mortenson without disclosing to the paper’s readers that she was being paid by CAI on the side, or disclosing that Mortenson had asked her to be the co-author of a forthcoming book he intended to write. After the scandal broke, some readers of the paper criticized this blatant conflict of interest and wondered how Ronnow, who had traveled extensively with Mortenson in Pakistan and Afghanistan, could have remained oblivious to his ethical shortcomings. According to Ronnow, “When ‘60 Minutes’ and Jon Krakauer launched their attacks on CAI and Greg Mortenson..., [the Chronicle] told me I had to make a choice: stay with the paper and cut all ties to CAI, or leave. So I left the paper and joined the CAI family.”

    CAI’S ACCOUNTING PRACTICES

    The Claim: On May 6, CAI attempted to rebut the charges made against Mortenson by “60 Minutes” and me by publishing a list “of the dozen most commonly asked questions and CAI’s answers” in its annual magazine, Journey of Hope. Both the questions and the answers were written by an unnamed CAI staffer. The second question on the list was, “Is CAI really spending 59% of its earnings on fundraising?” In reply, the staffer wrote,

    CAI is dedicated to using every dollar as efficiently as possible. In 1996, 100% of donor dollars went to programs, while 0% went to overhead. In 2009, 88% went to programs and 12% to overhead. The average annual percentage CAI has spent on programs throughout its history is 78%.

    The Truth: In the alternative reality of CAI accounting, each time money from donors was used to buy a $100,000 magazine ad to promote one of Mortenson’s books, the transaction was entered into the ledger as a “program expense”—even though CAI doesn’t receive any of the revenues from Mortenson’s books. Donor funds spent to fly Mortenson on private jets to more than a hundred paid speaking engagements (for which he pocketed $25,000 per event) also went on the books as “program expenses”—even though CAI receives none of his speaking fees. If such expenses were reported honestly and transparently, CAI’s outlays for fundraising, marketing, and other items commonly regarded as overhead would exceed 50% of the charity’s annual budget.

    In 2009, according to an audited financial report, CAI spent just under $4 million building and operating schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a sum that includes construction costs, school supplies, teachers’ salaries, student scholarships, and travel expenses for program managers. In the same year, CAI spent more than $4.6 million on “Domestic outreach and education, lectures and guest appearances across the United States”—an amount that included $1.7 million to promote Mortenson’s books. All of the $4.6 million was categorized for tax purposes as “program expenses.”

    THE CAI BOARD OF DIRECTORS

    The Claim: Another question on the list published in Journey of Hope was,

    Please address the allegations that many Board members have resigned. Also, three Board members, including Greg Mortenson, are too few. Is the organization giving any consideration to beefing up the Board?

    CAI’s reply:

    Over the years, some Board members have resigned due to philosophical and/or managerial differences with other Board members and/or with Greg Mortenson. Since its inception, CAI has had 14 board members, with an average 5.2-year term of service. Yes, the current CAI Board is in the process of expanding the number of Board members and is reviewing qualifications of potential candidates.

    The Truth: The last major exodus of directors from the CAI board occurred in 2002-2003, when five board members resigned because Mortenson failed to provide receipts, document expenses, or abide by IRS regulations. By late 2004 the board had shrunk to Mortenson and three compliant admirers who took no meaningful action to hold him accountable. In January 2011, the board shrunk by one more member, who resigned upon learning in a memo from a tax attorney that CAI’s outlays for book advertising and private jets appeared to be in violation of Section 4958 of the IRS Code, which prohibits board members and executive officers of a public charity from receiving an excessive economic benefit from the charity.

    To meet the standards of the Better Business Bureau, a charity’s board of directors must have a minimum of five members. CAI hasn’t abided by that requirement since 2004. For the past seven months, the CAI board of directors has consisted of just three people: Mortenson, Abdul Jabbar (a retired English professor at City College of San Francisco), and Karen Stone McCown, (a wealthy Californian who founded the Nueva Center for Learning).

    Article 4.2 of the CAI Bylaws states, “Each Board member elected to the Corporation’s Board of Directors will hold office for three years. Terms will be staggered so that approximately one-third of the Board seats shall become open each year.” Paying no heed to these unambiguous edicts, both Jabbar and McCown have held office without interruption since 2003. And despite the fact that it’s been more than three months since Anne Beyersdorfer assured concerned donors that “the current CAI board is in the process of expanding the number of board members,” the board still consists of just Mortenson, Jabbar, and McCown—the very people who steered CAI onto the rocks. Meanwhile, CAI continues to founder. As Daniel Borochoff, president of the charity watchdog American Institute of Philanthropy, explains,

    There is no doubt Greg Mortenson should be given credit for doing arguably more than anyone else to bring attention to the dearth of Education for children, especially girls, in central Asia. He also deserves credit for the functioning schools built and funded by his charity. But these good deeds do not let him off the hook for using CAI to absorb millions in expenses that generated personal profits for himself and his books’ publisher…. These actions, combined with the alleged inaccuracies in Three Cups of Tea, have breached donors’ trust to a degree that CAI will be unable to recover from, in AIP’s opinion, with Mortenson at the helm.

    Central Asia Institute is currently under inquiry by the Montana Attorney General’s office. Given the serious allegations against Greg Mortenson and their grave consequences for the reputation of CAI, AIP believes it is appropriate for him to resign from the charity. A new board of directors should then be installed that, unlike its current board, has the ability to govern CAI effectively and independently of the personal business interests of Mortenson or any other CAI official. For a man who has dedicated so much of his life to promoting CAI’s important cause, Mortenson’s resignation letter to the charity is perhaps the most generous contribution he could now make to the people of central Asia.

Originally published in Byliner, April 2011