Crime & Courts

Western Alaska teacher sentenced for attempted possession of child pornography

A teacher in Stebbins was sentenced this week to nearly two years in federal prison for exchanging sexually explicit messages with who he thought was a 16-year-old girl.

Lon Dean Gillas, 67, was arrested in 2020 and pleaded guilty earlier this year to a federal charge of attempted possession of child pornography. Gillas received a 21-month prison sentence Thursday in federal court, according to court records.

Gillas repeatedly engaged in sexual conversations with someone he thought was a 16-year-old girl who lived outside Alaska, soliciting nude photographs of her and asking her to perform sexual acts, according to federal charges. The messages were sent using his Bering Strait School District Google account, charges said.

The FBI had already been looking into Gillas because a 20-year-old woman who had been living with him as part of “a contractual master/slave relationship” reported acts of sexual violence, according to a sentencing memorandum filed by prosecutors. No charges have been filed related to those allegations and the woman left the state before Gillas began contacting the other party, the memorandum said.

Investigators found those messages during that first investigation, the memorandum said. A school superintendent said at the time that he had also alerted Alaska State Troopers after receiving messages the week prior from community members that raised red flags about Gillas.

After Gillas was indicted, investigators discovered he had not actually been talking with a 16-year-old girl, but an adult man who had been posing as the girl as part of his own “fantasy role play,” a memorandum written by a federal public defender said. The man was not affiliated with law enforcement.

Gillas taught students in grades seven through 12 at the Tukurngailnguq School and had worked for the district for nine years.

Before Gillas was hired in Alaska, his teaching license was revoked in Oregon in 2010 after he was reprimanded several times for viewing sexually explicit materials at the schools where he worked.

Gillas did not disclose the revocation when he applied, former Superintendent Robert Bolen said at the time. He said Gillas’ actions would have caused concern for the district and that he “fell through the gap.”

The district relies heavily on fingerprinting done by the state education department during licensing to point out any potential criminal activity. Gillas does not have any previous criminal history, and while the revocation from Oregon is public, there is no national database for reprimands or actions taken on teachers’ licenses.

Bolen said at the time that there was no indication Gillas had harmed any students at the Stebbins school.

The current Bering Strait School District superintendent did not respond to a message Friday asking for details about Gillas’ employment status.

Gillas’ teaching license remains active in Alaska but is set to expire in October. It was not clear whether there was an ongoing investigation into his conduct from the state education department.

“All Professional Teaching Practices Commission investigations are confidential until the Commission takes official action against an educator, or the accused elects to have a hearing,” Grant Robinson, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, wrote in an email.

Gillas is one in a string of teachers in rural Alaska who have been charged with sex crimes in recent years. Another Bering Strait School District instructor was arrested in 2016 and abused more than a dozen girls at the Wales school. The district paid $12.6 million in a resulting civil lawsuit.

Gillas’ attorney requested a sentence of five years’ probation in the defense’s sentencing memorandum, citing his lack of prior criminal history.

He was sentenced to 21 months in prison, followed by 10 years of supervised release. As part of a plea agreement, charges of attempted receipt and production of child pornography and attempted coercion of a minor and attempted sex trafficking were dismissed.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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