Crime & Courts

Former Anchorage School Board president charged with theft from local restaurants

Former Anchorage School Board President Elisa Vakalis is facing six felony counts after being accused of theft of more than $26,000 from three restaurants under the same managing partner while she worked as a bookkeeper on contract in 2019 and 2020. She was serving on the school board at the time.

Charging documents filed in state court Thursday say local restaurant and brewery owner Matthew Tomter contacted Anchorage police and accused Vakalis of embezzling from his restaurants on May 27, 2020.

According to the charges, filed by the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions, Vakalis was hired as an independent contractor in February 2019 to work for Eagle River Alehouse, the Matanuska Brewing Downtown, the Anchorage Alehouse, Matanuska Brewing Company and Alaska Keg.

Vakalis was fired in January 2020, charges say.

Tomter then hired an accountant to look into the books of the companies, according to the charges. The accountant found issues with the books at Eagle River Alehouse, Matanuska Brewing Downtown and the Anchorage Alehouse, charges say, and that Vakalis took money from the companies’ payroll, petty cash, credit cards and vendor misappropriations.

No issues were found with the books of Matanuska Brewing Company or Alaska Keg, the charges said.

Vakalis faces six felony counts, including scheme to defraud, first-degree theft and two counts each of falsifying business records and fraudulent use of an access device or identification document.

Vakalis served on the Anchorage School Board starting in 2015 and was president during the 2020-2021 school year before losing her seat in the April municipal election. She said she could not comment on the charges when reached on Friday.

Vakalis was originally hired to work for $1,155 a week, but in October 2019 Vakalis paid herself not only as an independent contractor but also as an employee of each restaurant and continued to do so until she was fired the following January, according to the charges. She also paid herself several bonuses and gave herself a raise, charges say. All told, the charges accuse Vakalis of misusing more than $9,300 in payroll.

According to the charges, the accountant found that Vakalis also made out several checks to “petty cash,” including some without receipts and the backs of four that appeared to be signed by a Midtown restaurant general manager who said that the signatures were forgeries. In all, the charges say Vakalis misused $5,749.58 categorized as “petty cash.”

The accountant also found two large charges on a business credit card Vakalis had been issued for bookkeeping duties, the charges say. One charge was $3,000 to a local law firm in September of 2019, which was a payment on Vakalis’s behalf in her divorce proceedings, the charges say. The other was a $2,814.53 charge at L&M Motors for repairs on Vakalis’s 2013 GMC Yukon, charges say. Combining the two large charges and smaller charges, there was over $7,000 in unauthorized credit card charges, according to the charges.

The charges also allege $4,500 in vendor misappropriations by Vakalis.

Reached by phone Friday, Tomter said he was pleased to see the justice system working and would let it play its course, but declined to comment further on the charges.