Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson says he’s launching an investigation into how his own administration failed to catch the fake credentials of his former health director. Joe Gerace resigned Monday citing health issues, after Alaska Public Media confronted him with evidence that the resume he used to get the job was fabricated. Bronson appointed him last September. A joint investigation between Alaska Public Media’s Lex Treinen and American Public Media’s Curtis Gilbert found that Gerace misrepresented his military, medical and educational background to get the job.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Curtis Gilbert: When Mayor Bronson ran for office, he promised to end COVID restrictions and address homelessness, right? And both of those fall squarely under the health department. So Lex and I thought Joe Gerace deserved a closer look. We started going through the resume he submitted to the Anchorage Assembly last year, after Mayor Bronson appointed him. And the education section really jumped out at us. Because usually, a resume will list your degrees, the years you got them, and the schools you went to, right? But Gerace left off that last part. He didn’t say what university gave him an MBA, or this master’s in physician assistant studies or even these bachelor’s degrees he said he had in chemistry and chemical engineering. So that struck us as odd. So we started digging, talking to people who’d crossed paths with him over the years, going through old court records, divorces, bankruptcies, social media, the website for the gun store he used to own, his campaigns for city council back when he lived in Washington State a decade ago. All of it. And the more that we dug, the more we found.
Casey Grove: Lex, you talked to Joe Gerace on Monday. What did he say about that?
Lex Treinen: I was expecting a confrontational conversation, but our hour-and-a-half long phone call was generally pretty cordial. But there were times it got a little contentious. Like when I asked him where he got his master’s degree in physician assistant studies.
[Phone recording starts.]
Joe Gerace: I’ll share it with you, Lex. I’m, I’m, I’m… Go on to the next question.
Treinen: I think it’d be easier if you could just say the name of the university, where you got it.
Gerace: I didn’t say it was a university, did I?
Treinen: It wasn’t from a university?
Gerace: It is from a university but I didn’t say it was a university. What does my resume say, Lex? You’re asking me questions.
Treinen: Well that’s why I’m wondering, because you didn’t list it on your resume.
Gerace: If you’d like to, again, I will get you copies. Can we move on to the next one? I’m not going to debate this with you. I’m done with this question, because you obviously have the information you need.
Treinen: Well, I don’t have the information I need. I don’t know where you got your Physician Assistant Studies, because you haven’t listed where that degree is from.
Gerace: Oh, oh, OK. Well, I’ll get you the resume that I submitted to the city, and it has all the things attached.
Treinen: And so you’re not gonna tell me where it’s from?
Gerace: No, I’m gonna share it with you. You asked a question. I’m gonna provide it to you today.
[Phone recording ends.]
Treinen: That was Monday. Gerace still hasn’t provided it, as of Tuesday afternoon. He did admit that he had never been licensed as a physician’s assistant, as he sometimes claimed. And that contradicts what he told the Bronson administration last year when he said he’d been one since the early 1990s.
Gerace did tell me where he claims to have gotten his master’s in business administration: a place called Henry Cogswell College in Everett, Washington. But that’s impossible. The school didn’t give out MBAs when Gerace said he went there. It was a tiny school, just 200 students or so. Henry Cogswell College went out of business in 2006. And the college sent all its student records to an office in Washington State government, so that alumni could still get their transcripts. We asked that office to look through all of their files for us, and they have no record of Gerace ever going there. So that totally didn’t check out.
Gilbert: We also found four public records where Gerace listed his educational credentials in the years since he supposedly got those two master’s degrees. And none of them mention anything about grad school. So, for example, in the year 2000, he was trying to get his child support payments reduced. And he fills out a form where he swore, under penalty of perjury, that his highest level of education was a bachelor’s degree. That was two years after he now claims to have earned his second master’s degree. So that totally contradicts his resume.
In fact, the only part of Joe Gerace’s educational background we were able to confirm was that he spent three years at a community college in Virginia. But that school has no record of giving him a degree, either. And in fact, Northern Virginia Community College said he reapplied there just a year and a half ago. The school says he wanted to pursue general studies and emergency medicine. Those are associate’s degree programs. And he didn’t end up enrolling.
Grove: One thing that stood out were claims he made about military service. So what about that? What about his National Guard service?
Gilbert: That’s interesting, too. So shortly after Mayor Bronson took office, Joe Gerace sends an email to one of Bronson’s aides. And he includes this long list of qualifications. And one of them is “lieutenant colonel – Alaska Guard.” At first we kind of took that at face value. You can Google Gerace and you’ll find pictures of him in uniform. But at this point, we’re learning this stuff about his education. So we start checking everything. I contacted the Army, and they ran his name through their databases. And their records show Gerace hasn’t served since the 1990s. And his rank when he left the Army Reserves in ’99 was E-4 specialist. That’s a junior enlisted rank. It’s just one step above private. And so that’s way below lieutenant colonel, which is a high-ranking officer.
Treinen: And then we figured out that the rank Gerace was claiming was from something called the Alaska State Defense Force. That’s a volunteer-based organization with about 200 members, mostly former military. But they aren’t part of the U.S. Armed Forces. They do use ranks that mirror the military’s. So that’s why Gerace was calling himself lieutenant colonel. He even asked employees at a vaccine site he was in charge of in 2021 to call him “Colonel Joe.” The Defense Force does help out the Guard sometimes during natural disasters. But the National Guard says it’s definitely not the same thing as being in the Guard. And that’s how the Bronson administration identified Gerace to the media and to the Anchorage Assembly.
Gilbert: And the other thing the Guard says is when a member of the Defense Force tries to pass themselves off as a member of the Guard, that they could face consequences. And, in fact, we learned Monday that the Alaska State Defense Force has called a special meeting to look into Gerace.
Grove: And then just real quick, Curtis, didn’t Gerace also claim to be a combat veteran? What did you find out about that?
Gilbert: Oh, yeah, right. That was actually when he applied for that job running the vaccination site that he had right before he was health director, in his resume that he submitted to Visit Healthcare. He claimed under the military section of his resume that he had 24 years of service. That’s three times as much as the Army’s record show, and he said he had five combat deployments. Lex asked him about that yesterday and Joe Gerace said he had no explanation for that. He admitted that he has never been in combat.
Grove: So what does the Bronson administration say?
Treinen: Well, we finally heard back from them this afternoon when the mayor sent out a press release describing the news about Gerace as, “shocking.” And he announced he’s launching what he called an “in-depth investigation” into Gerace’s hiring and the city’s human resources hiring process moving forward. That is a major change from Monday, when the mayor wrote that he would miss Gerace’s “dedication, hard work, and commitment to help our city’s underserved.” The city spokesperson on Monday also called me and told me the information I presented to him was inaccurate and false. The mayor has offered no explanation detailing what if any steps his administration took to verify Gerace’s credentials before he was nominated.
Gilbert: And the other thing we found is that Bronson and the Assembly were both warned that Gerace’s resume looked fishy. A former employee of Gerace’s wrote an email to the Assembly and also testified in a closed-door Assembly meeting that Gerace’s credentials didn’t seem to add up to her. But immediately after that, the Assembly voted to confirm him anyway.
Grove: Well, I’ve got to wonder, what are those Assembly members saying now?
Treinen: A couple members that I talked to said they felt lied to during the confirmation process. They said they acted as well as they could on the information given to them about Gerace’s credentials, which we now know are false. West Anchorage Assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia, who voted to confirm Gerace, said the Bronson administration needs to answer questions about what it knew or it could lose public trust.
Kameron Perez-Verdia: You begin to question not just this one hire, but many hires, right? You wonder whether the administration has done background checks and has done verification of degrees of the many people that they’ve brought forward.
Treinen: Another Assembly member, Forrest Dunbar of East Anchorage, also said he regretted his vote to confirm Gerace last year. And he pointed his finger at one person in particular.
Forrest Dunbar: I think we need to hear more from Niki Tshibaka, the head of HR, about how he was vetted about how people in general are vetted, and how this mistake got through.
Treinen: Assembly members say they want more information from the Bronson administration to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Chris Constant, the Assembly vice chair, said the Assembly Rules Committee will discuss their options on Thursday.
Grove: Have you heard any more from Joe Gerace about your investigation?
Treinen: Just a little. He sent me a handful of emails on Monday, including some he says from the hospital, where he was being treated. And he sent me a note Tuesday. He promised to send information, including copies of his degrees, soon. But as of Tuesday afternoon, he hadn’t sent them to me.
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