Accused pleads no contest in folk festival embezzlement

Posted: Monday, August 07, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- A former Juneau Assembly candidate accused of embezzling money from the Alaska Folk Festival pleaded no contest to charges of theft and falsifying business records.

But questions about just how much Jim Demers owes the festival remain.

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

Demers, 48, was volunteer treasurer of the festival from May 1994 to May 1999. He also ran for assembly in 1999.

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 entered during a scheduling hearing 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 bargain.

Curtain 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.

The festival originally alleged that about $12,000 was missing from its accounts. But Riley Woodford, chairman of the festival board, said the most recent estimate is between $10,000 and $11,000.

''I think it's great that he's come forward with this much money,'' said Riley Woodford, chairman of the festival board. The festival board will meet to discuss how much money it will seek, Woodford said.

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

Prosecutors said Demers skimmed from ticket sales from benefit concerts, transferred money from the festival's 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.

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

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