Former head of Anchorage Health Department settles fraud suit with state for $30,000

A man in a medical mask
Former Anchorage Health Department director Joe Gerace conducts a press conference in an emergency operations center at the department’s downtown Anchorage office building on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Former Anchorage Health Department director Joe Gerace, who resigned the same day extensive fabrications about his professional and educational experience came to light, has settled a lawsuit brought against him by the state of Alaska.

In a deal finalized Tuesday and approved by Superior Court Judge Andrew Guidi, Gerace agreed to pay the state $30,000 to settle claims he fraudulently misrepresented his military experience. As a result of that misrepresentation, the state argued Gerace was overcompensated for service performed in the Alaska State Defense Force, a component of Alaska’s Organized Militia that falls under the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

News of the settlement was first reported by Alaska’s News Source.

The state’s initial lawsuit, filed in December of 2022, claimed that when Gerace joined the Defense Force he said he had 24 years of prior military experience in the U.S. Army and had separated with the rank of lieutenant colonel. According to the state’s complaint, “he was awarded the ASDF rank of Lieutenant Colonel, which was much higher than the rank he deserved with a much higher rate of compensation than he deserved.”

The state aimed to recoup $61,576.09 in overcompensation it said had been paid to Gerace during his 203 days of active duty service with the Defense Force.

In order to resolve the case, Gerace agreed to pay back around half that amount within 120 days.

The attorney representing Gerace in the case did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.

The state’s lawsuit was largely independent of Gerace’s troubled tenure with the Municipality of Anchorage as head of the city’s health department during the first part of Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration. Gerace was given the job in the fall of 2021, just months after Bronson came into office. During the year he was in charge, the city grappled with a COVID-19 surge that pushed local hospitals to the brink of collapse, an exodus of staff, and a widely criticized effort to shift more than a hundred homeless people to an East Anchorage campground after the city shuttered its shelter in the Sullivan Arena.

In 2022, reporting by Alaska Public Media and American Public Media showed that Gerace had made up or embellished most of his professional credentials and work experience. He resigned shortly before the reporting was published, and local officials launched an investigation to figure out how he’d been appointed and confirmed in the first place.

In February, the Bronson administration released a memo detailing that during the hiring process, the human resources department never contacted any of Gerace’s references, or verified his purported educational credentials and past employers. The memo noted that such lax protocols had been standard across multiple administrations and that the process had “been broken for years.”

This story was originally published in the Anchorage Daily News and is republished here with permission.

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