Michelle McMullen stole thousands from a Dauphin County church, ditched her little boy, and had been on the run for years. Tuesday, McMullen pleaded guilty to theft and fraud charges, and surprisingly, walked out of jail a free woman.
McMullen had been locked up for about seven months. Prosecutors agreed to give her credit for time already served. So despite convictions on four felony counts, McMullen left prison without handcuffs. Her court days aren't over just yet. There's still the matter of repaying the money she pocketed.
McMullen, 30, was all smiles as she left Dauphin County Prison. Prosecutors were happy for other reasons.
"It's great to get resolution to this case because now that she's been sentenced, she's under court supervision and has been ordered to pay the money back to the church," Dauphin County prosecutor Jenni Allen said. "That, of course is the goal, to make the church whole again, now that they've been victimized by the defendant."
Progress Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Susquehanna Township is where McMullen had been working as a secretary. She was reportedly fired for poor performance.
Church leaders later realized more than $12,000 was gone. Court documents revealed McMullen wrote herself checks and gave herself raises without permission.
"Our theory was that she took the money and held it for herself," Allen said.
In 2008, McMullen vanished. She left her 6-year-old son with a baby sitter. McMullen was considered a missing person at first, then a fugitive. About a week after she went missing, police filed theft and forgery charges. The TV shows "Disappeared" and "America's Most Wanted" picked up the story.
"It was helpful because those tips led to her initially being apprehended, and now she was brought back to this jurisdiction to face the consequences of her actions," Allen said.
In January of this year, McMullen was spotted in California, thanks to national attention her case received. By late February, she was back in the midstate. Had McMullen not taken off, prosecutors said she might have spent less time behind bars, or at the very least, been done with her probation by now.
"So the time she was on the run, most folks would have finished up supervision in that length of time," Allen said.
"It's conceivable she may not have even done the seven months?" abc27 News asked.
"That would have been possible, certainly, just by standing up and being accountable for the charges and her actions," Allen replied.
McMullen's layer and prosecutors are at odds over how much money she stole. McMullen will be in court for a restitution hearing next month. That's when a judge will officially decide the amount to be repaid to the church. The pastor did not want to comment Tuesday about McMullen's guilty pleas.