HELENA - An Illinois woman has dropped her lawsuit against "Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson, leaving just one legal claim that millions of people were duped into buying Mortenson's books and donating to his charity based on lies.
Former teacher Deborah Netter dropped her lawsuit Friday in Illinois federal court. She had sued Mortenson, his co-author and his publisher over claims that she bought the book based on her belief that it contained the truth as to how Mortenson became involved in building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
She cited reports from "60 Minutes" and author Jon Krakauer this spring that alleged Mortenson lied about events in the best-selling book. The reports also questioned whether he financially benefited from the institute and whether his Central Asia Institute built the number of schools it claimed.
Mortenson has denied fabricating stories or profiting from the charity.
Netter's Chicago attorney, Larry Drury, said Wednesday that Netter voluntarily dropped the case but declined to say why. She was weighing her options, which include joining the first lawsuit filed against Mortenson in Montana, he said.
Mortenson, who is rehabilitating in Montana after open-heart surgery, was not available for comment, family friend and CAI interim director Anne Beyersdorfer said.
"We are relieved that he is relieved of the Illinois action," Beyersdorfer said.
Montana plaintiffs Michele Reinhart and Dan Donovan are trying to start a class-action lawsuit against Mortenson, co-author David Relin and their publisher, Penguin Group, claiming that if the plaintiffs had known portions of the book were fabricated they would not have given their money to Mortenson and the charity.
Reinhart is a Democratic state legislator from Missoula.
Another plaintiff, Jean Price, dropped out of the lawsuit last month.
They are asking a federal judge in Missoula to place all the money from Mortenson book purchases - at least $5 million - into a trust to be used for humanitarian purposes.
"Three Cups of Tea" was released in 2006 and sold more than 3 million copies, helping Mortenson grow the Central Asia Institute by generating more than $50 million in donations.
Penguin Group requested Tuesday that the Montana case be consolidated with the Illinois case and moved to federal court in New York City, saying it would be more convenient for most of the witnesses and prevent duplicative or inconsistent rulings.
The federal Judicial Panel of Multidistrict Litigation dismissed that request on Wednesday, saying the dismissal of the Illinois case made it moot.
Alexander Blewett, attorney for Price and Donovan, said he would fight any attempts to move the case out of Montana.
"There's not much question they're trying pretty hard to keep this from being litigated in Montana," Blewett said of the publisher. "Our people live in Montana, Mortenson lives in Montana, his charitable corporation's physical place of business is in Montana. It seems Montana is the place where this case should be litigated."