Alaska oil, mining education group alleges former director stole at least $187,000

The United States Courthouse and Federal Building in downtown Anchorage. (KDLG photo)

An organization that promotes the oil, gas, mining and timber industries in Alaska’s schools is suing its former executive director, alleging she embezzled at least $187,000.

Alaska Resource Education filed suit against Michelle Brunner, who worked for the organization for a decade ending in 2017, on Wednesday in federal civil court.

The group, with a roughly $300,000 annual budget, helps teach students about Alaska’s natural resources, distributing curriculum to elementary through high schools. Modules include “Trees, a Renewable Resource,” and “Fossil Fuel Hunt.” Its board of directors includes employees of some of Alaska’s biggest players in the natural resource industry, including ConocoPhillips, Usibelli Coal Mine and Hilcorp, along with Alaska Airlines and the Alaska Railroad.

In a 29-page complaint, Alaska Resource Education alleges Brunner stole money through unauthorized payroll transactions and bonuses, credit card charges for personal expenses and direct bank transfers, and hid some of the actions by describing them as payments to legitimate vendors, the lawsuit alleges. 

It says Brunner falsified emails from the organization’s employees and consultants to qualify for a mortgage for an Arizona home, and to buy it. She also shredded documents and ultimately deleted her email account after leaving her job, though Alaska Resource Education hired a consultant that partially restored it, the suit says.

“We want to reassure our donors, our educational partners and the public that we have done everything possible to ensure the organization’s financial integrity and fiduciary responsibility going forward,” the group’s new director, Ella Ede, said in a prepared statement.

Brunner did not respond to a message sent to her Facebook account Thursday.