- Associated Press - Monday, April 30, 2012

HELENA, MONT. (AP) - “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson says he has been overwhelmed by all the issues facing him this past year, but that the dismissal of a civil lawsuit confirms his faith that the U.S. judicial system is fair.

Mortenson made his comments Monday in a statement to The Associated Press after U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon rejected claims that Mortenson, his publisher, his co-author and his charity engaged in fraud and racketeering.

The lawsuit alleged Mortenson fabricated book passages to boost sales and increase donations to the Central Asia Institute.

In Mortenson’s first public statement in a year, he says facing open-heart surgery, a state investigation into his charity and the lawsuit was overwhelming.

But he says Central Asia Institute is stronger than ever and will continue its work.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

A federal judge on Monday dismissed a civil lawsuit against author Greg Mortenson, calling claims “flimsy and speculative” that the humanitarian and his publisher lied in his best-selling “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones Into Schools” to boost book sales.

The lawsuit by four people who bought Mortenson’s books claimed that they were cheated out of about $15 each because the books were labeled as nonfiction accounts of how Mortenson came to build schools in central Asia. They had asked U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon to order Mortenson and publisher Penguin Group (USA) to refund all the money collected from Mortenson’s book sales.

The readers from Montana, California and Illinois filed the lawsuit after “60 Minutes” and author Jon Krakauer reported last year that Mortenson fabricated parts of those books.

The plaintiffs said Mortenson, co-author David Oliver Relin, Penguin and Central Asia Institute were involved in a fraud and racketeering conspiracy to build Mortenson into a false hero to sell books and raise money for CAI, the charity Mortenson co-founded.

Haddon wrote in his ruling that their racketeering allegations “are fraught with shortcomings” and the plaintiffs’ “overly broad” claims that they bought the books because they were supposed to be true were not supported in the lawsuit.

The ruling is good news for Mortenson and his charity after the Montana attorney general earlier in April announced a $1 million agreement to settle claims that Mortenson mismanaged the institute and misspent its funds. The agreement removes Mortenson from any financial oversight and overhauls the charity’s structure, but did not address the books’ contents.

“I think ultimately it frees Greg up to be able to speak to the allegations,” said Anne Beyersdorfer, the charity’s interim executive director, of Haddon’s ruling. “He stands by his books.”

Mortenson said in an email that he was traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan on Monday and could not immediately comment. His attorney, John Kauffman, also declined comment, saying Haddon’s ruling speaks for itself.

“Three Cups of Tea,” which has sold about 4 million copies since being published in 2006, was conceived as a way to raise money and tell the story of his institute, founded by Mortenson in 1996.

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