Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson mismanaged Central Asia Institute

by Gary Snyder

From MT Attorney General's Report:

"Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson mismanaged the nonprofit organization he co-founded to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan and spent charity money on personal items, family vacations and millions on charter flights, according to an investigative report released.

Mortenson's control of the Central Asia Institute went largely unchallenged by its board of directors, which consisted of himself and two people loyal to him, the report prepared by the Montana Attorney General's office said. When an employee would question his practices, Mortenson either resisted or ignored the person, the report found.

The result was a lack of financial accountability in which large amounts of cash sent overseas were never accounted for. Itemized expenses listed as program-related were missing supporting receipts and documentation. Employees and family members charged items such as health club dues and gifts to CAI credit cards.

Mortenson himself reaped financial benefits at the expense of the Central Asia Institute, including the free promotion of "Three Cups of Tea" and his later book, "Stones Into Schools," and the royalties from thousands of copies CAI bought to donate to libraries, schools, churches and military personnel, the report said.

The books came under scrutiny last year when reports by "60 Minutes" and author Jon Krakauer alleged that Mortenson fabricated parts of both and that he benefited financially from the charity. The attorney general's probe focused only on the charity's finances and operations, and did not examine the books' contents.

The attorney general's office said Mortenson was permanently removed as CAI's executive director in November. A settlement agreement signed by Mortenson, CAI and the attorney general's office said Mortenson will be barred from being a voting member of the board and from holding any position of financial oversight as long as he is employed by the charity. The charity must expand its board from three to at least seven members, and the other two current board members must step down within a year, according to the deal.

Mortenson also must reimburse the charity more than $1 million under the settlement agreement. Nearly half has already been repaid. The agreement also calls for an overhaul of the charity's operations and board.

The investigation found that CAI spent $3.96 million buying Mortenson's books to give away, paying full price through online retailers instead of using the publisher's discount for Mortenson. A 2008 agreement between Mortenson and CAI required Mortenson to donate the equivalent of what he made in royalties from the CAI-purchased books, but he never did.

The investigation also found that CAI spent $4.93 million on advertising and promoting Mortenson's books, costs that the charity and the author had agreed to split but never did.

CAI paid $2 million in charter flights for Mortenson to keep his rigorous speaking engagement schedule before he started paying for his own travel in 2011. The investigation found that in many cases he was "double-dipping," where CAI paid for his travel to a speaking engagement and the host of the event also paid him a fee or honorarium for his travel, which Mortenson pocketed.

Mortenson and his family also charged personal items to CAI in 2009-2010 amounting to $75,276 that included "LL Bean clothing, iTunes, luggage, luxurious accommodations and even vacations," according to the report.
Mortenson has repaid more than $495,000 of the $1.05 million that the attorney general's office says he owes CAI. He has $560,000 left to repay and will have three years to do so — with interest — because he has "insufficient financial resources" to pay it all at once, the report said.

The investigation found serious holes in CAI's operations and governance with Mortenson at the helm. The other board members weren't able to rein in Mortenson or persuade him to document his expenses, despite "requests, cajoling, demands and admonitions," the report said.

"There was a deliberate effort to put people who are loyal to Mortenson on the board," the report said. As a result, "the board did not exercise sufficient control and direction over Mortenson."

Nonprofit Imperative gathers its information principally from public documents...some of which are directly quoted. Virtually all cited are in some phase of criminal proceedings; some have not been charged, however. Cites in various media: Featured in print, broadcast, and online media outlets, including: Vermont Public Radio, Miami Herald, National Public Radio, Huffington Post, The Sun News, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Wall Street Journal (Profile, News and Photos), FOX2, ABC Spotlight on the News, WWJ Radio, Ethics World, Aspen Philanthropy Newsletter, Harvard Business Review, Current Affairs, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, St. Petersburg Times, B, USA Today Topics, ,, Responsive Philanthropy Magazine, New York Times...and many more • Nonprofits: On the Brink (iUniverse, 2006)
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