'Three Cups of Tea' Author Ordered to Repay $1 Million

After a year-long investigation into the Central Asia Institute and co-founder Greg Mortenson's alleged mishandling of the charity's funds, Montana attorney general Steve Bullock has ordered bestselling author to repay the institute $1 million, the Associated Press reports. Although the settlement bars Mortenson from being a voting member of CAI's board of directors, he will remain the face of the organization and draw a salary.

While no criminal wrongdoing was found, Bullock's investigation determined that Mortenson — author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, memoirs written to raise public awareness of CAI, which builds schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan — did not follow through on his agreement to repay the royalties he received from the thousands of copies of the books CAI bought to give to other organizations and the public or split book promotion costs with the charity, as per a 2008 agreement. The investigation also found that CAI spent more than $2 million on Mortenson's charter flights to speaking engagements over the years, including times when the airfare and other costs associated with the event were covered by the host organization.

In 2009-10, Mortenson and his family charged personal items valued at $75,276 to the charity, including "LL Bean clothing, iTunes, luggage, luxurious accommodations, and even vacations." A spokesperson for CAI, which disputes some of the report's findings, told the AP that Mortenson was not a good financial manager and often was late in reconciling his expenses and royalty payments. "He was always committed to an equitable split and just fell behind," said CAI interim executive director Anne Beyersdorfer.

In addition to removing Mortenson from any position within the organization that includes financial oversight, the Montana attorney general recommended that CAI expand its board from three to seven members. The institute's board currently is comprised of Mortenson and two Mortenson "loyalists," Karen McCown and Adbdul Jabbor.

The investigation and attorney general's findings notwithstanding, at least one CAI donor remains committed to the organization's mission and Mortenson's vision. "I am pleased with what he has accomplished there," retired real estate agent Don Hammel told the AP, "and [I] know after he repays what the 'bean counters' fret about, his [mission] will go on."

Matt Volz. "APNewsBreak: 'Three Cups' Author to Stay With CAI." Associated Press 04/06/2012.