Greg Mortenson, author of the global best-seller Three Cups of Tea and adamant fundraiser for his Central Asia Institute, was lambasted last week for mismanaging millions of dollars in donations. Mortenson has made several fund-raising trips to Idaho to talk about his charitable organization.
Mortenson's troubles began in April 2011, when CBS' 60 Minutes questioned whether Mortenson was personally benefitting from donors' money and even if the inspiring stories in his books were true.
The allegations triggered a yearlong investigation by the Montana attorney general into Mortenson's Montana-based foundation. The probe resulted in a settlement that requires Mortenson to repay $1 million to his charity and make fundamental changes to the institute's structure.
"It's a Wild West atmosphere and it's not just Montana. Donors beware," said Daniel Borochoff of the American Institute of Philanthropy. "Be really careful."
The investigation found that the nonprofit bought and promoted Mortenson's books and spent nearly $2 million to fly him on chartered jets, all without the charity receiving any royalties or any other direct benefits. The report also said unknown sums of money were wired overseas without receipts or supporting documentation and that Mortenson had charged the charity's credit cards for tens of thousands of dollars worth of personal items.
The Montana Attorney General's Office said the investigation was the most extensive probe into a charity that the office has ever conducted.