Joe Gerace’s lies went way beyond Anchorage. Multiple agencies investigate how they were duped

Joe Gerace, as acting Anchorage health director, takes journalists on a tour of the Sullivan Arena shelter on Nov. 1, 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Joe Gerace lied his way into more than a high-paying job running the Anchorage Health Department. New reporting reveals that Gerace — who resigned from the city on Aug. 8 shortly before Alaska Public Media exposed his phony medical, educational and military credentials — also successfully deceived a state commission overseeing EMT training, a state paramilitary organization and the Alaska Department of Health. None appear to have taken the basic steps needed to debunk the false claims on his resume, allowing him to attain a seat on a state task force, a prestigious volunteer gig and an EMT license.

An investigation published last month in collaboration with American Public Media showed that Gerace falsely claimed to be a physician’s assistant with two master’s degrees and a high-ranking position in the Alaska National Guard. In fact, he had none of those qualifications.

In the weeks since, at least four government agencies have launched their own inquiries to find out how Gerace’s lies went undetected.

The Alaska State Defense Force, a volunteer-based state-run organization that helps the Alaska National Guard during disasters, expelled Gerace late last month after concluding that he “misrepresented his qualifications and experience during the ASDF application process and during his time in the organization,” a statement from the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs said.

A bald man in uniform sits at a table covered with Girl Scout cookies, with an American flag behind him
In this 2020 photograph shared to the Alaska National Guard’s Facebook page, Gerace poses in uniform behind an assortment of Girl Scout cookies. The post was part of a feature called “Faces of the Alaska State Defense Force.” Because Gerace never served in combat, his uniform should not have included a patch below the blue and yellow insignia on his right shoulder, according to Alan Brown, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The Facebook post originally claimed Gerace “studied medicine at the university [sic] of Virginia,” which Gerace admits was not true.
“I took some liberties, yes,” Gerace said in an early September interview. “I’m not proud of that. I’m actually highly embarrassed by it,” he said, adding, “nothing justifies what I did.”

The inquiry, led by ASDF Commander Simon Brown II, found that Gerace had falsely told the organization that he retired from the Army after more than 20 years of service with a rank of lieutenant colonel. In fact, he left after only eight years, mostly in the Reserve, as a lowly E-4 specialist. The ASDF’s procedures require applicants to submit their military discharge papers when they join, which is how the organization decides what rank they receive and how much to pay them when they help with disaster response. But the organization did not verify their authenticity at the time.

“I want to take full responsibility for having those gaps,” Brown said. He vowed to enact more stringent controls going forward. “If you want to come in and say you have certain qualifications, you will have to present proof. And that proof will be double-checked at the source it came from.”

Brown determined that Gerace violated four sections of the Alaska Code of Military Justice: fraudulent enlistment, false official statements, conduct unbecoming an officer and wearing an Army combat patch on his uniform in spite of never seeing battle during his relatively brief military career. Those violations could have resulted in a court martial and jail time, but instead Gerace received an “other than honorable discharge” from the ASDF.

Gerace also fooled the Alaska Council on Emergency Medical Services, a board appointed by the governor to provide advice on EMT training and related issues. It named Gerace to a state task force. Among his duties was writing test questions about neurological disorders for aspiring EMTs.

The resume he submitted to the medical services board in 2020 falsely claimed that he held a master’s degree in business administration, a lie he repeated the following year when he applied for the health director job in Anchorage. Gerace also said he worked for 20 years in emergency medical services in Washington State, where records show he was licensed as an EMT for just two years from 1991-1993.

Gerace has been exaggerating his EMT career for years, records show. A King County, Washington, Sheriff’s report from 2003 describes Gerace pretending to be a firefighter when he was arrested for failing to appear before a judge in a child-support case.

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A King County Sheriff’s Office report from 2003 noted Gerace “lied about being a firefighter.”

“When I confronted Gerace at the jail about the fact that he is not a firefighter with Fire District 10, he then said he knew that and just said that, but is really a volunteer somewhere else but wouldn’t give us that information,” Deputy Jana Wilson wrote in her report. Fire District 10 told her Gerace had been “let go” years earlier and had “no attachment to the fire department whatsoever.” Wilson also called the state board of volunteer firefighters, which confirmed that Gerace hadn’t been an active volunteer in the state for a decade.

Wilson may have done more to check Gerace’s claims while executing a routine bench warrant than Mayor Dave Bronson’s office, the Anchorage Assembly, the city’s human resources department, the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which oversees the ASDF, or the Alaska Department of Health.

The state health department has suspended Gerace’s EMT license amid an investigation and declined to comment further. His application contained now familiar lies about master’s degrees. It also claimed he held an EMT license in New Jersey, and it included a screenshot of an online license verification belonging to a firefighter there who also happens to be named Joseph Gerace.

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This screenshot was included in Gerace’s 2019 application.

“I’m not real happy about it,” said the New Jersey Gerace upon learning that someone in Alaska appeared to be impersonating him. “I’m hoping it’s an honest mistake.”

The Alaska Gerace is contesting the suspension of his license. In an interview, he said he meets the qualifications required to be an advanced EMT, and he suggested that someone other than him may have filled out the state application. He declined to say who.

But Gerace admitted that he had a long history of embellishing his resume and has lived in fear he would one day be exposed.

“Whoever cheats on their resume, wherever, you know, it’s a ticking time bomb, and I would recommend they don’t do it,” he said.

It seemed his falsehoods might unravel before he was confirmed as health director last year. A former employee of Gerace from a previous job warned members of the Assembly and Mayor Bronson during a confirmation hearing that she suspected his qualifications had been falsified.

Bronson’s administration says it is investigating how it failed to catch Gerace’s fake credentials before he was confirmed despite the warning from Gerace’s former employee. In an emailed statement, Corey Allen Young, a spokesperson for the mayor said, “The investigation is ongoing and should be wrapped up soon.”

Anchorage Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance wants the Bronson administration to provide more information on Gerace’s hiring. In addition, LaFrance said, Municipal Manager Amy Demboski has offered to brief Assembly members on how the administration plans to respond in what LaFrance described as “another situation where a person with fraudulent credentials is put forward by the mayor.”

“We, the Assembly, put together a list of questions so that we can be sure to understand how the situation with a former [health department] director happened,” she said. “And to make sure that we’re doing everything … reasonable to prevent another situation from happening.”

The Assembly’s staff is also researching whether it could pass an ordinance to strengthen its role in vetting mayoral nominees.

The Assembly’s audit committee, under member Felix Rivera, is set to discuss a possible audit of Gerace’s actions as head of the health department during a Sept. 15 meeting.

Alaska Public Media reporter Chris Klint contributed reporting to this story.

This story was produced as a collaboration between American Public Media Reports and Alaska Public Media. 

American Public Media

American Public Media is the largest station-based public radio organization in the U.S. Its multi-regional station operations include 49 public radio stations and 42 translators in the Upper Midwest and California.

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