September 30, 2008

Ex-Airport Official Pleads Guilty to Felony Counts

By Mike Cruz

JOSHUA TREE - A former Yucca Valley airport official accused of embezzling $1.3 million in state funds pleaded guilty to seven felony counts Monday.

Richard Paul Demel, 51, will spend four years in state prison, be fined $323,491 and be required to pay the missing money back as restitution when he is sentenced Dec. 4, according to the District Attorney's Office.

Demel, of Bermuda Dunes and Yucca Valley, applied for a grant from the state Office of Emergency Services to fix damages at the airport caused by thunderstorms in August 2003, prosecutors said.

In 2004, a check for more than $1.1 million was issued to the Yucca Valley Airport District, but it was sent directly to Demel, investigators said. Demel opened an account without the knowledge of the district's board of directors and deposited the check, authorities said.

The defendant, who was an unpaid volunteer as manager, then made several transfers to his own account from February 2005 through September 2006, authorities said.

The Yucca Valley Airport District, a special county district, operates the small airport used mostly by local pilots.

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