Three cups of trickery

Apr 202011
Authors: Erin Udell

In August 2009, best-selling author and philanthropist Greg Mortenson came to speak to a sold-out crowd at Moby Arena where he told inspiring stories of his humanitarian efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But, according to allegations made against him in a CBS “60 Minutes” report on April 17, Mortenson is receiving criticism for possibly fabricating details in his book, “Three Cups of Tea,” while also mismanaging donations for, and financially benefiting from, his non-profit organization, the Central Asia Institute.

Mortenson was invited by CSU to speak in the 2009 Monfort Lecture Series, an annual event which brings distinguished speakers to the Fort Collins community.

“At the time, he was the first choice of the university for the Lecture Series,” said CSU’s spokesperson Brad Bohlander. “His message really fit well with the university’s focus on outreach.”

After Mortenson’s presentation at CSU in 2009, local billionaire and philanthropist Pat Stryker matched donations for the CAI through her organization the Bohemian Foundation. The final donation was $336,000.

“The charge of educating girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan is important to the region and the rest of the world,” said Sarah Hach, community programs director for the Bohemian Foundation, in an e-mail to the Collegian. “Bohemian Foundation hopes the allegations toward Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute prove to be untrue, as their mission is compelling and important.”

According to the CBS report, the CAI, which aims at promoting education in regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, took in $23 million of contributions last year.

With more of a focus on domestic outreach, the organization spent the majority of its earnings on promoting the importance of education instead of actually building schools overseas.

In a CAI financial statement “book-related expenses” were listed at $1.7 million, which is more money than was spent on the organization’s schools in Pakistan last year.

Other allegations against Mortenson state that he lied about events in “Three Cups of Tea,” including his account of building a school in the Pakistani village of Korphe and being kidnapped by the Taliban.

“The allegations are certainly disappointing, but we’ll wait and see how this plays out and how the facts play out, of course,” Bohlander said.

After checking into a Bozeman, Mont. hospital for a hole in his aortic ventricular wall shortly after the “60 Minutes” report, Mortenson has been unable to comment on the accusations.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Anne Beyersdorfer, a public relations officer who is currently running the CAI during Mortenson’s hospitalization, said she has since posted the organizations financial information on its website.

“We are all about full transparency and communicating with whom we need to be clear about the works we do,” Beyersdorfer said.

Senior Reporter Erin Udell can be reached at

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