Demers sentenced to halfway house

Posted: Sunday, November 05, 2000

Convicted embezzler Jim Demers was sentenced Friday to six months in a halfway house and ordered to pay up to $24,000 in restitution.

Because of what Superior Court Judge Patricia A. Collins termed "the length and seriousness of his crimes," she did not heed pleas for leniency by Demers' defense attorney, James E. Curtain.

"While this offense does not involve physical violence, it does involve a position of trust," Collins said. "This is not an impulsive act occurring once or over a short period of a day or two, but occurring over a period of years with very significant efforts made to disguise those thefts."

Demers, 49, had been charged with two class C felonies second-degree theft and falsifying business records. He was accused of stealing at least $12,000 from the nonprofit Alaska Folk Festival during his stint as its treasurer.

For the theft charge, Collins sentenced him to two years in prison with 18 months suspended and five years probation. She recommended he serve that time in a halfway house and ordered him to report Saturday to the Lemon Creek Correctional Center for classification.

Because the exact amount of money owned the Alaska Folk Festival is still in debate, Collins allowed the defense 30 days to examine records and contest amounts.

She put a ceiling of $24,000 on restitution, less $7,700 already paid. Demers was to apply his Alaska Permanent Fund dividends to restitution and to perform 100 hours of community work service. She also sentenced him to pay costs of incarceration up to $2,500.

Collins said she also considered a fine, but in the interest of having restitution made promptly decided against one.

For the charge of falsifying business records, Collins handed down an identical sentence running concurrently. This was counter to the recommendation by probation officer MaShelle Atherton of two consecutive sentences of two years.

Atherton requested Demers participate in a financial counseling program, and Collins added that to the sentence.

Alaska Folk Festival President Riley Woodford asked for an additional $5,000 projected loss of revenue because of "loss of credibility." Woodford, a Juneau Empire staff member, also asked for $6,900 to pay for the expense of investigating and reporting Demers' crimes. Collins did not grant either request, but did order that restitution should include interest.

Demers was treasurer of the folk festival from 1994 to 1999. A year ago, festival board members noticed ledgers entries did not match bank records. They collected evidence and called police last December. Board members estimated Demers stole about $12,000 over five years.

"People have been upset (about the embezzlement)," Woodford said. "It reflects poorly on any organization to have a board member steal from the membership ... and it does not make people more generous to know that in the past their donations were stolen."

Police interviewed Demers June 21, and he confessed to stealing $3,000 to $4,000. Since June, festival board members secured additional bank records and found evidence of additional thefts.

After Curtain spent nearly half an hour establishing Demers' 20-year Coast Guard career as "distinguished, honorable, trustworthy, and admirable," assistant district attorney David Brower asked Demers if, during his days in basic training, he was familiarized with the term "barrack thief."

Demers then termed his "inappropriate actions" with the festival "dastardly." He claimed to have "begun a dialogue" March 17 to try to make things right.

Following the sentencing, current folk festival treasurer Jim Grammel protested that "The dialogue consisted of a check (for $1,200) surrounded by a blank piece of white paper."

Festival volunteer Anne Fuller objected to Demers' testimony about how the charges had harmed his wife's life in Juneau.

"I believe there are more victims. He can get teary-eyed about his wife and I'm sorry. But I have a 19-year-old daughter who grew up believing the folk festival was everything. And he has tarnished that in a way I am going to find hard to forgive," Fuller said.

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