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TNB: Drugs, Lawsuits, Mortenson Saga Continues

by Duane Raleigh

“Greg Mortenson, the embattled head of the Central Asia Institute and author of the best-selling Three Cups of Tea had surgery two weeks ago to repair a hole in his heart and fix a newly discovered and potentially life-threatening aneurism. According to Anne Beyersdorfer, acting director for the CAI, in an article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Mortenson is recovering at an undisclosed location and, once back on his feet, will address the “media misinformation” that has, since the April airing of a “60 Minutes” expose and the release of Jon Krakauer’s e-book Three Cups of Deceit, landed Mortenson and the CAI in enough hot water to brew all the tea in China. Meanwhile, says Beyersdorfer, a communications consultant who has worked with senate and presidential candidates and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the CAI’s school-building continues.

And so does the weirdness, much of which could have been scripted for a Hunter Thompson chronicle, but instead was written by Mike Giglio, an investigative reporter for Newsweek and The Daily Beast who trekked to Mortenson’s hometown of Bozeman, where the windshield of his rental car was smashed.

In his article “In Greg Mortenson’s Silence, His Neighbors Defend Him, or Vilify Him,” Giglio reports that 1) Two former CAI associates have been contacted by the U.S. Secret Service, a law enforcement branch best known for protecting the President, but also tasked with investigating major cases of fraud. 2) The CAI had hired the high-powered PR firm Burson-Marsteller, which, notably, put former George W. Bush aid Karen Hughes in charge of righting the listing public confidence ship. 3) Soon after the “60 Minutes” report, Bozeman police were summoned to Mortenson’s home after his wife reported that he was raving. The police reported that Mortenson was taking medication under a doctor’s care, and that the medication contributed to the disturbance.  No charges were filed and Mortenson was allowed to remain at home under the care of his doctor and a therapist.

All this is going on as lawsuits pile up. In early May, two Montana state legislators, Michele Reinhart and Jean Price, filed a class action suit seeking the return of CAI donations and refunds for people who bought Mortenson’s books believing that they were factual. Another suit filed last week in Chicago federal court makes similar claims.

In both lawsuits, the plaintiffs enlisted the services of personal injury attorneys, notably, in Chicago, former teacher Deborah Netter hired Larry Dury, famous for filing suit against author James Frey and the publisher of his book A Million Little Pieces, a memoir that was publicized as true but later proven to have been fictionalized. Dury’s case was settled for $800,000 including attorney’s fees of $173,000. Of the millions of readers who purchased A Million Little Pieces, only 1,345 were injured enough to request a refund.

While there is enough evidence to investigate the CAI for improprieties, these civil cases won’t build more schools and could have the opposite effect. Plaintiff attorneys typically charge 20 percent of any settlement and defense attorneys in a personal injury case will charge at least that much. For every dollar the CAI currently has, 40 cents or more could go to the lawyers. Then, presumably, what remains will be placed in the trust of another NGO, which can draw 20 percent in administrative fees, leaving 48 cents for the schools. That’s just one lawsuit. Ultimately, the CAI and Mortenson could be broke, with no monies left to build schools, a sad irony since one of the primary criticisms of the CAI is that it spent over half the donations it received on administration and marketing. Indeed, these lawsuits won’t serve a greater cause. Rather, they will merely feed a growing trend of frivolity.”

This all begs a few questions: 1. Is the story that touched millions of people’s heart’s a sham? 2. How much donor money was actually felt on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan? 3. Does it really matter in the end if schools were built with most/some/part of the money when previously none existed?

Although many are “hurt” by thinking that this heartfelt story is not exactly they way they believed it it seems on the ground before Greg’s work there were little to no schools for girls in these countries and now there are. Moreover, his work has broken boundaries and helped female education become better understood and most importantly accepted in areas of the world where traditionally women have not been afforded such opportunities.

So what do you think? Does it matter that the story was embellished? Does it matter if not all of the money went to where people thought it should? Will these schools now cease from being created because of these lawsuits? Is that the most just outcome to this situation? Let us know what you think…

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