Insurance company to pay $1.2M in ‘Cups of Tea’ settlement
Mortenson accused of fabricating book
HELENA, MONT. An insurance company will pay $1.2 million to a charity co-founded by “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson in a settlement over the legal costs of a lawsuit and an investigation into Mr. Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute, attorneys involved in the settlement said.
The settlement, if approved, will mark an end to more than two years of legal troubles for Mr. Mortenson after “60 Minutes” and author Jon Krakauer published reports that alleged Mr. Mortenson fabricated parts of his best-selling books and mismanaged the Central Asia Institute.
After those reports, then- Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock launched an investigation into the charity. A settlement required Mr. Mortenson to repay $1 million and made fundamental changes to the institute’s structure.
Four readers then filed a lawsuit that claimed Mr. Mortenson, co-author David Oliver Relin, publisher Penguin and the Central Asia Institute were involved in a fraud conspiracy by Mr. Mortenson lying in his best-selling “Three Cups of Tea” to boost sales and donations to the charity.
“Three Cups of Tea” and the sequel, “Stones Into Schools,” recount how Mr. Mortenson started building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Three Cups of Tea” has sold about 4 million copies since being published in 2006.
A district judge threw out the lawsuit, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.
Along the way, Mr. Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute racked up approximately $1.8 million in legal fees defending themselves in the investigation and the lawsuit.
The charity sued Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Co., saying the insurer was obligated to pay for all of its defense costs, but had offered to reimburse the institute only 35 percent and Mr. Mortenson 25 percent of their defense fees in the lawsuit.
The insurer offered to reimburse 20 percent of Mr. Mortenson’s costs and all of the Central Asia Institute’s costs for the state investigation, according to the complaint.
The insurance company said in court filings that certain allegations against Mr. Mortenson don’t fall within the policy, including the publication of material that the insured person or company knows is false.
The $1.2 million settlement was reached in a private mediation conference held Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch in Missoula, said attorneys John Morrison of Helena and Carey E. Matovich of Billings.
Ms. Matovich represented the Central Asia Institute, and Mr. Morrison represented a law firm that defended Mr. Mortenson in the investigation and in the lawsuit.
The settlement still must be approved by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen. The judge has given the sides until Dec. 6 to file dismissal papers.
Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance attorney Brian Harrison declined to comment Friday, saying the settlement was confidential.
Mr. Mortenson declined comment.