Pennsylvania Woman Convicted of Church Theft

Many think churches are immune from theft and other crime. Nevertheless, news headlines are filled with cases of parishioners - and even pastors - stealing from church coffers.

On July 12, 2011, Michele McMullen entered a plea bargain on four counts of theft and forgery of $12,000 from the Progress-Immanuel Presbyterian Church. McMullen must serve a seven-month sentence as well as five years of probation, in addition to a restitution payment of $6,000.

McMullen was arrested in January, 2011 on charges of stealing the money in 2008 from the Susquehanna Township church at which she had once worked as a secretary. The 30-year-old young mother and former college student disappeared in September 2008 when police began investigating the theft of the church.

Police suspicion of McMullen was aroused soon after the theft, as she left her only child with a friend and her family lost contact with her. Her family thought her disappearance was the result of foul play, but the police were skeptical of this explanation from the beginning.

For the two years McMullen was on the run, she used several aliases. Creating clever background stories, McMullen was able to avoid being caught. To some, she was a Hurricane Katrina survivor who lost everything. To others, she was an adoptive daughter of abusive parents.

McMullen's story was showcased on popular legal shows such as America's Most Wanted and Discovery Channel's Disappeared. The profile of the church theft and her disappearance that aired on "Disappeared" ultimately led to her capture. Arrested in Oakland, California, McMullen was extradited to Pennsylvania were she was charged with her crimes.

In general, only people charged with more serious crimes become a fugitive, which makes Michelle McMullen's case seem so unusual. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that cases against less serious fugitives may remain on the books longer, while serious fugitives are often apprehended and charged in just a few weeks.

Theft crimes can carry heavy fines and penalties with them. If you have been charged with a crime involving a church, an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can advocate on your behalf is essential.