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Crime & Courts

Western Alaska teacher used school email account to send explicit messages to girl Outside, prosecutors say

A Stebbins teacher was arrested Tuesday after investigators found that he’d knowingly exchanged sexually explicit messages with a 16-year-old girl living outside Alaska, according to federal charges.

Lon Dean Gillas, 65, has been with the Bering Strait School District for about nine years, according to federal charging documents filed Tuesday. He worked with middle school and high school students at the Tukurngailnguq School in Stebbins, Superintendent Robert Bolen said in an interview Wednesday.

Gillas’ teaching license was revoked in Oregon in 2010 after he was reprimanded several times for viewing sexually explicit materials at the schools where he worked. Bolen said the district was not aware of the revocation until last week and that Gillas “fell through the gap.”

School officials received multiple tips last week from parents and community members who had seen chatter on social media that “Gillas was involved in something questionable,” Bolen said.

Bolen said administrators found troublesome emails and chat messages sent from Gillas’ school account to a 16-year-old girl from out of state. Bolen contacted the Alaska State Troopers and the case was referred to the FBI.

There have not been any complaints or disciplinary actions against Gillas during his time with the district, according to Bolen. He said the district, along with investigators, does not believe any children at the school were victimized by Gillas.

According to the federal charges, Gillas told investigators during an interview Monday that he met the teen’s mother online through a fetish website. The mother then introduced Gillas to her 16-year-old daughter, the charges said. Gillas was aware of her age, according to the charges.

He told investigators he began communicating with the teen from outside Alaska before June 20, which was when the messages provided by the school district began, although the charges say he was unable to describe how long they had been in contact.

In the messages obtained by investigators, Gillas repeatedly requested that the girl send him sexually explicit photos of herself and others and perform sexual acts at his direction, according to the charges. He maintained a dominant relationship with the teen and frequently referred to her as his “slave,” the charging documents said.

He directed her “to engage in demeaning activity as a way to break her down emotionally, control her and manipulate her,” the charges said.

Gillas asked the teen several times to fly to Alaska and offered to pay for her airfare, the charges said.

Superintendent Bolen said Wednesday that the Stebbins school will have a counselor on site when students return. The district is working to ensure that there’s adequate support for students or staff who may have concerns, and Bolen said he wants to ensure “nobody is falling through the cracks.”

Bolen said most parents already know of the allegations against Gillas.

The Yup'ik village of Stebbins on Norton Sound in Western Alaska on June 26, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN archive)

Gillas taught shop class to students in grades seven through 12, Bolen said. There are about 160 students at the K-12 school and 18 teachers, Bolen said.

Stebbins is a community of about 650 people nestled on St. Michael Island off the Norton Sound Inlet of the Bering Sea. Bolen described it as a close, tight-knit community.

“I’m sure as with any allegation like that, it’s disheartening and concerning to parents to wonder if their child or somebody that they know has been affected,” he said. “... We want to make sure again that we’re doing our due diligence to ensure that nothing did happen with any of our students, staff or community members.”

Bolen said he was not superintendent when Gillas was hired, but said that Gillas did not disclose on his application that his teaching license in Oregon had been suspended or revoked. Bolen said the district found out about the revocation after an email was sent to administrators last week that included the revocation paperwork.

The Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Division suspended Gillas’ license in 2006 after it was discovered that he had viewed sexually explicit material on his school-issued computer on McMinnville School District grounds. The suspension was set to extend for three years.

During the 2007-08 school year, Gillas again accessed sexually explicit material from his school computer, the division stated in an order of revocation. “At least two students witnessed Mr. Gillas engage in this conduct,” the order said.

His license was revoked in December 2010, at which time the division listed his address as a P.O. box in Galena. Gillas received his initial Alaska teaching certification in July 2009 and received a professional certification in May 2012, according to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

Bolen said that the suspension and revocations from Oregon would have raised red flags for the district, had administrators been aware of the allegations. He said the district does reference checks but mainly relies on fingerprinting done by the education department during licensing to point out any potential criminal activity. Gillas does not have any previous criminal history.

“He probably just fell through the gap,” Bolen said. “With no other allegations or accusations and nothing out of the ordinary with him, there was really no need to go back through history and take a look at things.”

Gillas is still employed by the district, although Bolen said he is not currently under contract. Teachers with the district sign 182-day contracts, Bolen said, and since Gillas has not started a new contract, it will be up to administrative discretion whether to renew his contract in coming years.

“We just are trying to make sure that we investigated thoroughly and we’re working with the authorities to get the information they need,” Bolen said. “We don’t want individuals like that working with our students.”

Gillas was in custody at the Anchorage Correctional Complex on Wednesday afternoon and is facing federal charges of attempted production of child pornography and attempted coercion and enticement of a minor. He’s scheduled to appear virtually in court Friday.

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