Demers' bill comes due: $16,238

Former folk festival treasurer ordered to pay for embezzlement

Posted: Wednesday, January 03, 2001

A judge has ordered the Alaska Folk Festival's former treasurer to pay $16,283.17 in restitution for falsifying checks, taking gate receipts and other embezzlements during his five years with the nonprofit group.

Juneau resident James Demers, 49, already has repaid $7,743.14 of the total due.

"This (restitution total) seems fair from our point of view," said festival board member Mike Sakarias. "I hope it puts some finality on this so we can move ahead."

Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins detailed the total to be paid in an order issued Dec. 26. She also told Demers, a former Juneau Assembly candidate, to pay interest on unpaid restitution.

Demers served as volunteer treasurer from 1994 to 1999. After he resigned his position, he failed to return many of the financial records of the festival, board members said. When members looked carefully at the records that were returned, they found many inconsistencies.

Following a confession to police in which he said he might have stolen $3,000 or $4,000, Demers was found guilty of two felonies second-degree theft and falsifying business records. He was sentenced Nov. 3 and began serving his sentence the next day. For the theft charge, he was sentenced to two years in prison with 18 months suspended and five years probation. He was to pay cost of incarceration up to $2,500 and to perform 100 hours community work service.

For the charge of falsifying records, Collins gave him an identical sentence to be served concurrently.

In November, she capped restitution at $24,000, to which Demers objected, and asked for more information before making a final determination.

In her 12-page judgment, Collins noted that "restitution awards in criminal cases are expressly limited to actual damages." She did not honor folk festival requests for future lost income and for printing a letter advising members of Demers' conduct. However, she did allow accounting costs and record duplication costs.

Collins noted that the work of board members to piece together "a five-year pattern of thefts" and their "remarkable volunteer efforts ... saved the membership a great deal of money that would otherwise have been spent on accounting costs associated with an audit."

The festival board "remains free to seek additional civil damages" from Demers, Collins noted.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire. com.

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