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'Three Cups of Tea' a fraud? Judge dismisses lawsuit against Greg Mortenson.

A federal judge on Monday threw out a lawsuit by readers seeking damages from 'Three Cups of Tea' author Greg Mortenson. Parts of the nonfiction book are alleged to be fabrications.

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Charges of fabrications in Mortenson’s books were raised last year by author and mountaineer Jon Krakauer and the CBS News program, “60 Minutes.”

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Earlier this month, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock announced a settlement with Mortenson and CAI in which the author is required to pay $1 million in restitution to his own charity “for his past financial transgressions.”

According to the attorney general, under Mortenson, CAI made bulk purchases of his books at retail prices with charitable funds that were donated to build schools in southwest Asia. At the same time, Mortenson received and kept royalties from those sales.

CAI also used charitable funds to pay expensive advertising costs for the books. Mortenson also accepted travel fees from book event sponsors at the same time CAI was paying all his travel expenses using charitable funds donated to build schools.

The Montana attorney general did not examine the alleged fabrications in Mortenson’s books.

That was the intent of the civil lawsuit.

Among many alleged inaccuracies, the complaint says Mortenson held himself out as a selfless humanitarian who visited Mother Teresa’s place of rest after she died. He supposedly knelt by her body, held her hand in his own and contemplated how similar the two were.

The touching scene reportedly took place in September 2000. According to the lawsuit, Mother Teresa died three years earlier.

The best known alleged fabrication in “Three Cups of Tea” involves the story of how Mortenson was rescued and nursed to health by residents in the Pakistani village of Korphe after a near-disastrous attempt to scale the mountain K2. The grateful mountaineer promised to repay the villagers by building a school.

According to the lawsuit and others who have investigated the veracity of the books, Mortenson had promised to build a school in a different village, Khane. But this account includes nothing of the drama of being lost or rescued by villagers. The promise to build a school in Khane is contained in an article Mortenson wrote for the American Himalayan Foundation many years before his book was written.

In dismissing the complaint, Haddon said the plaintiffs had failed to offer enough evidence of a pattern of fraud to justify the legal action. 

“Plaintiffs assert they suffered concrete financial loss when they paid full price for a nonfiction book when it was fiction,” he said.

"The complaint does not state, nor is it possible to ascertain, whether plaintiffs would have purchased the books if: (1) the books were labeled or marketed as fiction; or (2) the readers knew portions of the books, as claimed, were fabricated,” he said.

“Plaintiffs’ overly broad statements that they paid approximately $15 for the books because they were represented as true does not suffice,” the judge said.

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