Yesterday concluded a yearlong investigation into Greg Mortenson, the executive director of The Central Asia Institute (CAI) and author of Three Cups of Tea. The attorney general of Montana’s report simultaneously praised Mortenson for “the efforts of a complicated person who has worked tirelessly on behalf of a noble pursuit,” while also establishing that he acted “in a way that jeopardized that pursuit.”
The report states that Mortenson will remain the face of the charity he co-founded (though no longer with the title of “executive director”), but he has to repay $1 million in compensation for “lapses in judgment” in regard to “financial transgressions.” In the opening letter to the report, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock summarizes:
Despite policies that committed him to do so, Mortenson failed to make contributions to CAI equal to the royalties he earned on the books the organization purchased. Nor did he and CAI devise an equitable way to split the costs to advertise and promote the book, which was required by his 2008 employment agreement. Mortenson also accepted travel fees from event sponsors at the same time that CAI was paying his travel costs. Moreover, he had significant lapses in judgment resulting in money donated to CAI being spent on personal items such as charter flights for family vacations, clothing and Internet downloads.
In this ruling, there are a few silver linings: 1) The event has encouraged both the public and nonprofits to better examine expenditures and bookkeeping processes; 2) Mortenson’s health, which was precarious, is now reportedly on the mend after open heart surgery and time away from work to recuperate, and 3) CAI, which must increase its board from three to seven members, can soon continue its worthy endeavors without distraction. As Bullock wrote, “CAI’s mission is worthwhile and important. Its accomplishments, driven by the vision and dedication of Mortenson, are significant — as even their harshest critics acknowledge. It has substantial assets which, if properly managed, can be used to pursue the charity’s mission and, in the process, improve the lives ofpeople in a very challenging and complex region of the world.”