The Central Asia Institute, the Montana charity run by the embattled author Greg Mortenson has been dropped from a class-action lawsuit demanding the return of millions of dollars of donations and book proceeds. But the charity’s headaches over donations may not be over, says a lawyer pursuing the class-action case.
The lawsuit, filed last month in a U.S. District Court in Montana, alleged that Mr. Mortenson and the institute fraudulently earned profits and solicited donations based on Mr. Mortenson’s false claims about his experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan that were featured in his books, Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools.
In a new version of the lawsuit, filed this month, two Montana book buyers want their money back or put into a trust to pay for schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the institute’s stated mission. Mr. Mortenson remains a defendant. The institute is no longer accused of doing anything wrong and the lawsuit doesn’t say anything about donations.
One of the donors who had pursued the case, Jean Price, was also dropped from the case. She had said she made gifts to the institute based on Mr. Mortenson’s comments during a speaking engagement and claims made by the charity in its solicitations.
Mr. Mortenson was unavailable for comment due to health reasons but in previous statements has stood by his books and denied any wrongdoing.
A Temporary Measure
Anne Beyersdorfer, who is serving as the institute’s interim executive director while Mr. Mortenson is out, said in a written statement that the charity was “bolstered” by the news that it was dropped from the case. “CAI’s mission,” she said, “is better served without trial lawyers and the expense of litigation.”
But Alexander Blewett III, the Great Falls, Mont. lawyer, who is handling the lawsuit, says the charity’s “glee” may be premature.
He says the complaint was amended only to “temporarily get out of the way” of the state’s attorney general’s office, which is conducting its own inquiry into the Central Asia Institute.
“It’s the A.G.’s position that only the A.G. can bring any such claims against a charity once a donor gives money,” Mr. Blewett says. But he adds: “If they don’t reconcile this fraud or malfeasance, then we’ll return with our claim.”
Montana’s attorney general’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit. A spokesman for the office said its inquiry into the charity is “active and ongoing.”