Greg Mortenson and his best-selling books, Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, reaped some more unwanted attention last week.
Attorney General Steve Bullock of Montana, where Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute charity is based, has ordered the storyteller to repay CAI more than $1 million, funds he says Mortenson misused. Considering that Mortenson may have defrauded CAI of $7.8 million to $23.6 million, the repayment order is paltry indeed.
The Daily News mentioned Mortenson’s fraud in an editorial in January, which prompted a somewhat angry email from CAI’s executive director Anne Beyersdorfer in Montana. In it, Beyersdorfer insisted that all the accusations were only accusations — nothing was proven.
However, she didn’t counter or deny any of the accusations, either.
Her letter was followed by an email from Colorado, written by Jon Krakauer, a well-regarded journalist (Into Thin Air) and mountain climber who had exposed Mortenson to CBS’s 60 minutes.
His email emphasized Mortenson’s falsehoods and effectively shut down Beyersdorfer, from whom we heard not another word.
Krakauer originally supported Mortenson, even donating $75,000 to Mortenson’s charity. But by 2004, he started noticing the author’s stories didn’t hold up under scrutiny. He later reported:
“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 (is) permeated with falsehoods . . . 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. Mortenson’s charity . . . has issued fraudulent financial statements, and he has misused millions of dollars donated by school children and other trusting devotees.”
That includes school children in Kamloops, contributing to Mortenson’s so-called Pennies for Peace.
This is a big deal, and not only because some Kamloops school children under the guidance of well-meaning teachers were taken in by this ruse.
It’s also a big deal because all of us are hungry for good news from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson provided it, giving us hope and allowing us to cross our fingers that, maybe, just maybe, the good works would some day overwhelm the bad.
But the schools he built? They don’t exist.
It’s puzzling, though, why attorney general Bullock would conclude that the charity itself, with Mortenson removed from the board, “is worth saving.” It has been the means by which Mortenson defrauded so many.
Just the same, the important part is done. Mortenson has been exposed, legally and utterly. Thanks to Jon Krakauer.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by editor Robert Koopmans, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, news editor Mike Cornell or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.