Demers alters his plea

Former fold festival treasure hands part of missing funds to court

Posted: Monday, August 07, 2000

Jim Demers, a former Juneau Assembly candidate, will not contest criminal charges that he stole thousands of dollars from the Alaska Folk Festival and falsified the nonprofit group's books.

But there still may be a question of how much Demers owes the festival, which puts on a series of free concerts in Juneau each spring and other musical events throughout the year.

``Mr. Demers has accepted responsibility for his actions, wants to make restitution and wants to move on with his life by pleading no contest,'' said defense attorney James Curtain today.

Demers, 48, was volunteer treasurer of the festival from May 1994 to May 1999. He also ran for assembly in 1999 and lost a three-way race to Tom Garrett.

Demers pleaded no contest Thursday in Juneau Superior Court to second-degree theft and falsifying business records, felonies that carry a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Under a no contest plea, the defendant does not admit guilt, but the court treats it as a conviction.

The plea, during a hearing originally set to reschedule the trial, came as a surprise, said District Attorney Rick Svobodny. The plea does not include an agreement on sentencing, which is set for Sept. 12.

Court rules forbid Svobodny from saying whether he had been working on a plea arrangement with Demers and Curtain.

``He's not admitted to stealing anything,'' Curtain said. But the attorney said Demers would not contest that he owed the festival about $7,200. Demers has already paid the festival $1,200 and he placed another $5,992.85 for restitution with the court, according to festival officials and court documents.

Festival board President Riley Woodford said today, ``I think it's great that he's come forward with this much money. I can't speak for the board and say this is the end of the matter.''

The festival originally alleged that about $12,000 was missing from its accounts. But Woodford, who is also a Juneau Empire reporter, said today the most recent guess is between $10,000 and $11,000.

It costs about $50,000 a year to run the festival, he said. Revenues come from membership dues, benefit concerts and souvenir sales.

The prosecutor's charging document, based on festival documents and a police investigation, said Demers skimmed some money from ticket sales from benefit concerts, transferred some funds from the festival's savings accounts into his personal account, wrote checks to himself, and spent thousands of dollars in unauthorized and unreported expenses. Demers also falsified the festival's financial records, the charging document said.

Demers has no previous convictions, Svobodny said. Curtain said sentences for the two felonies are likely to be concurrent. Curtain also said Demers is a very good candidate for a suspended sentence, in which his criminal record would be cleared sometime after serving any jail time and paying restitution.

The festival board will meet to discuss restitution, Woodford said.

Curtain said the festival would have to show in a restitution hearing that its losses were more than what Demers already has paid.

Demers could not be reached immediately for comment.

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