May 9, 2011

Two Montana legislators announce class-action lawsuit against Greg Mortenson


Greg Mortenson with schoolchildren in Afghanistan

Two Montana state legislators have announced a filing in federal court in Helena seeking a class-action lawsuit against Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute (CAI), reports an Associated Press wire story. The two claim “they were duped into buying Mortenson’s best-selling book and donating to his charity based on lies they thought were true,” and that “the lawsuit potentially could be joined by millions of people who bought Mortenson’s books, heard his speeches or donated to his charity.”

According to the complaint, Rep. Michele Reinhart bought a copy of the book after hearing Mortenson speak at the University of Montana, while Rep. Jean Price made a donation to CAI after hearing a Mortenson presentation.

Now, the two representatives …

… are asking a judge to rule that Mortenson and CAI violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, also known as RICO. They made the RICO claim because Price gave CAI a second donation after receiving a solicitation in the mail, which [their attorney] Alexander Blewett said constitutes mail fraud.

The racketeering claim allows the plaintiffs to seek triple the amount Mortenson and CAI have made from book sales, speeches and donations.

The complaint asks the judge to place the money into a trust administered by a court-appointed charity that would direct it to schoolchildren in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, according to a “a statement by his doctor posted on the Central Asia Institute’s website,” Mortenson is “in his Bozeman home awaiting word on whether he could safely undergo surgery to repair a hole in his heart.”

A CAI spokesperson says, “He is not able to speak because of his health issues, but he (will be) ready to tell his version of the story, which is very important.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives