Folk festival's ex-treasurer admits embezzling

Posted: Tuesday, July 11, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The former treasurer of the Alaska Folk Festival admitted embezzling thousands of dollars from the festival, according to court documents.

Jim Demers, who fell 101 votes short of a Juneau Assembly seat last year, was charged Friday in Juneau District Court with second-degree theft and falsifying documents.

Demers was treasurer of the folk festival for five years and resigned May 1999. After he left, Riley Woodford, president of the festival's board, and Jim Grammel, the new treasurer, discovered discrepancies in the nonprofit group's books and called police in December.

''We completely trusted him and he betrayed us,'' Woodford said. ''He took advantage of the trust.''

About $9,000 is missing from bank accounts and another $3,000 or so never made it into the bank, Woodford and Grammel said.

Last month, Demers confessed to having embezzled from the folk festival and offered to pay restitution, Juneau District Attorney Rick Svobodny said. However Demers told police he stole between $3,000 and $4,000.

Demers did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Both of the charges are felonies and carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Grammel said dubious transactions for various amounts were spread out over years.

''It didn't take me very long at all. The numbers didn't add up. I started reconciling things, and things started popping up. He'd write a check down in the ledger saying it was $25. The bank would say it was $125,'' Grammel said.

Along with off-book check cashing, Demers skimmed from cash raised at benefit concerts, Woodford said.

Demers wasn't paid for his bookkeeping work. Board members are all volunteers. Woodford said the job probably took up five or 10 hours a week for the three months leading up to the annual festival, which has been a Juneau event for 26 years.

The folk festival costs about $50,000 a year to produce, said Woodford. Future festivals are not at risk due to the missing money, he said.

Woodford said Demers told the board the festival was losing money due to decreased contributions.

Grammel said the board wanted people to know about Demers, rather than try to solve the problem internally, in part because of Demers' political activities.

''He was out there showing himself off as assembly candidate,'' Grammel said. ''We felt like the community really needed to know about this.''

Demers is retired from the U.S. Coast Guard, and currently works as a driver and manager at the Juneau Trolley Car Co.



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