- Associated Press - Thursday, February 9, 2012

HELENA, MONT. (AP) - Attorneys who accuse Greg Mortenson of defrauding readers in his best-selling “Three Cups of Tea” say his case is no different from that of James Frey, who admitted on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” that he lied in his memoir “A Million Little Pieces.”

That lawsuit ended in a settlement that offered refunds to buyers of the book.

Mortenson has asked a judge to throw out the civil lawsuit that says he fabricated portions of his book, saying that if it is allowed to proceed, other authors could be subjected to similar claims and the result would be a stifling of the free exchange of ideas.

“Plaintiffs should not be allowed to create a world where authors are exposed to the debilitating expense of class action litigation just because someone believes a book contains inaccuracies,” attorney John Kauffman wrote in the filing late last month.

But the plaintiffs’ attorneys argue in court documents filed Tuesday the lawsuit should go forward because of the precedent set by class-action lawsuit against Frey. The two cases are “nearly identical,” they said.

“The facts in the (Frey) case are stunningly close to the facts in this case, but not nearly as compelling,” wrote attorney Alexander Blewett.

The lawsuit claims Mortenson lied about how he began building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan and fabricated other events in the books “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones Into Schools.” The attorney who led the Frey lawsuit, Larry Drury, is also a plaintiffs’ attorney in the nine-month-old case against Mortenson.

Winfrey chose “A Million Little Pieces,” for her book club in September 2005, boosting its sales, which eventually topped 3.5 million. But then Frey acknowledged on Winfrey’s show in January 2006 that he had lied in the memoir of addiction and recovery.

A judge in 2007 certified a class-action lawsuit by disgruntled readers against Frey, and the resulting settlement offered a refund to anybody who bought the book before the falsehoods were acknowledged.

Only 1,729 people asked to be reimbursed, costing Random House $27,348. The attorneys in the case were paid $783,000 in fees.

Haddon has not yet scheduled a hearing on whether to dismiss the claim against Mortenson.

The lawsuit accuses the Montana resident of being involved in a racketeering scheme to turn him into a false hero, defraud millions of people out of the price of the books and raise millions in donations to the charity. The other defendants allegedly in on the scheme are co-author David Relin, publisher Penguin Group and Mortenson’s Bozeman-based charity, Central Asia Institute.

Mortenson’s accusers seek reimbursement of all the money that was made from his books. The lawsuit has been amended four times, with a changing cast of plaintiffs who now number four.

The lawsuit was filed a few weeks after author Jon Krakauer and “60 Minutes” revealed in April 2011 discrepancies in “Three Cups of Tea” and questioned whether Mortenson was benefiting from his charity.

Meanwhile, Montana prosecutors are moving ahead with their own investigation into Mortenson’s charity, saying they plan to update the public about the investigation in the next few weeks.

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