- Associated Press - Friday, May 16, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The man who replaced Greg Mortenson to lead the “Three Cups of Tea” author’s charity has resigned without explanation a little more than a year after being hired to get the organization on track following mismanagement allegations and a plunge in donations.

Central Asia Institute sent out a one-paragraph release this week saying David Starnes‘ resignation was effective immediately. That was followed by an announcement that its development director James Thaden had become interim executive director and former Defense Department official Christopher Kolenda was the new senior adviser for international affairs.

The Bozeman-based charity runs educational-support programs, builds schools, provides scholarships, and does some public health work in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It was co-founded by Mortenson, the co-author of the 2006 best-selling “Three Cups of Tea,” which tells the story of how Mortenson decided to spend his life building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan after becoming lost during a mountain-climbing expedition.

On Friday, CAI board chairman Steve Barrett declined to give a reason for the abrupt change in leadership, saying he cannot comment on personnel matters.

“We have big privacy laws in our state and we try to respect those,” Barrett said. “We’ve got a strong team going forward.”

Starnes did not immediately return a message left at his home. Mortenson also declined to comment.

Starnes previously worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Pakistan. CAI touted his hiring as positioning the organization for a strong future after a 2012 settlement with the Montana attorney general’s office that required Mortenson to repay $1 million - about half of which he had already returned - and step down as executive director.

The settlement also required CAI to expand its board after the investigation found the previous board did not challenge Mortenson or question his practices.

Attorney general spokesman John Barnes said Friday his office was aware of Starnes‘ resignation, but called it an internal personnel matter.

“We are concerned about the change and will continue to dialogue with the CAI board to ensure they are able to attract and retain qualified personnel to manage the organization,” Barnes said.

The investigation began after 2011 reports by “60 Minutes” and author Jon Krakauer alleged Mortenson fabricated parts of “Three Cups of Tea” and its sequel, “Stones Into Schools,” and that he benefited financially from the charity.

Mortenson denied fabricating episodes in the book or any wrongdoing in managing the charity.

The investigation focused only on the management of Central Asia Institute. It found that Mortenson had tremendous control over the charity, was a poor financial manager and that he benefited from the royalties when the organization bought thousands of his books to donate to libraries and schools.

Amid the publicity, contributions to Central Asia Institute plummeted from $22 million in 2010 to $4 million in the fiscal year that ended in September 2012, the last year the organization’s tax filings are available.

Mortenson still works for the charity and is listed as an ex-officio member of its board.