Former Alaska Folk Festival official gets restitution break

Posted: Monday, February 11, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Despite his conviction for embezzlement, a former treasurer of the Alaska Folk Festival will not have to pay full restitution to the nonprofit group.

A recent state Court of Appeals ruling overturned part of a lower court sentencing of James Demers.

In 1999 Demers was charged with theft and falsifying business records. The felonies stemmed from offenses covering four years of his time as treasurer with the festival. According to court records, more than $13,000 was unaccounted for in over 40 transactions.

Demers pleaded no contest before he could be indicted by a Juneau grand jury.

Demers was sentenced to two years in prison with 18 months suspended.

Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins also ordered Demers to pay restitution up to $24,000. That included $5,400 for the festival's ''accounting costs.'' According to court records, this was compensation for 200 hours festival volunteers spent in reviewing the organization's books following the embezzlement discovery, plus money paid to festival accountants.

The Court of Appeals recently overturned this decision in part, ordering Demers to pay $400, which went to the accountants. However, the court found that Demers did not have to pay volunteers.

''The festival did not expend any money nor receive an invoice for this volunteer effort,'' the appellate court wrote. ''Although the festival was injured as a result by Demers' crimes, it did not incur any monetary damage or loss when the festival's board members volunteered their time and effort to audit and reconstruct the festival's business records.''

Some members of the folk festival board criticized the decision.

''I don't feel it was a fair ruling,'' festival board President Jack Fontanella told the Juneau Empire. ''Mr. Demers caused serious harm to this organization.

''People trusted him and the board to do what was right. He violated that trust and that reflects on the whole board, not to mention the money.''

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