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COMMONWEALTH v. NICHOLS (09/16/65)

decided: September 16, 1965.

COMMONWEALTH, APPELLANT,
v.
NICHOLS



Appeals from orders of Court of Quarter Sessions of the Peace of Philadelphia County, Sept. T., 1958, Nos. 1393, 1395, 1396, 1397, 1406, 1407, 1409, 1410, 1411, 1413, 1761, 1762, 1764, 1766, 1767, 1769, 1770, 1772, 1774, 1775, 1776, 1778, 1779, and 1781, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. D. Ward Nichols.

COUNSEL

A. Joseph Rieffel, Assistant District Attorney, with him Joseph M. Smith, Assistant District Attorney, F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Jr., First Assistant District Attorney, and James C. Crumlish, Jr., District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellant.

Abraham J. Brem Levy, with him Isaiah W. Crippins, for appellee.

Ervin, P. J., Wright, Watkins, Montgomery, Jacobs, and Hoffman, JJ. (Flood, J., absent). Opinion by Watkins, J.

Author: Watkins

[ 206 Pa. Super. Page 354]

These are appeals by the Commonwealth from orders of the Court of Quarter Sessions of the Peace of Philadelphia County sustaining the defendant's demurrers

[ 206 Pa. Super. Page 355]

    to the evidence in certain bills of indictment; and from orders of the court en banc granting motions in arrest of judgment and discharge of the defendant after conviction by a jury on other indictments.

D. Ward Nichols a duly elected Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church was indicted for embezzlement by trustee on fourteen bills of indictment; embezzlement by agent on fourteen bills of indictment; and embezzlement by an officer of a corporation and fraudulent conversion on fourteen bills of indictment. There was a total of 42 indictments.

The case was called to trial in March of 1964. Shortly after the trial began the trial court granted the Commonwealth's motion to nolle prosequi the fourteen bills charging embezzlement by trustee so that they pass out of this case. Demurrers to the evidence were sustained in two bills charging embezzlement by agent and two bills charging embezzlement by officer of corporation and fraudulent conversion. The Commonwealth did not appeal from this action and these four indictments pass out of the case.

The defendant's demurrer to twelve indictments charging embezzlement by officer of corporation and fraudulent conversion were sustained by the trial court and this action was affirmed by the court en banc. The Commonwealth appealed.

Bills of indictment charging embezzlement by agent, officer of corporation and fraudulent conversion numbered 1396, 1397, 1409, 1410, 1761, 1762, 1764, 1766, 1767, 1769, 1770 and 1772, respectively, a total of twelve, were submitted to the jury. A verdict of guilty on all indictments was returned. The defendant's motion in arrest of judgment and the discharge of the defendant was granted by a majority of the court en banc composed of Sloane, P. J., Saylor, J., and Shoyer, J. President Judge Sloane dissented but was of the opinion that a new trial should be granted because the introduction

[ 206 Pa. Super. Page 356]

    of some 140 checks by the Commonwealth had the cumulative effect of unduly confusing the jury to the prejudice of the defendant.

The crimes charged were brought under the Act of June 24, 1939, P. L. 872, § 827, 18 PS § 4827, which provides as follows: "Whoever, being an officer, director, superintendent, manager, receiver, employe, agent, attorney, broker, or member of any bank or other body corporate, or public company, municipal or quasimunicipal corporation, fraudulently takes, converts, or applies to his own use, or the use of any other person, any of the money or other property of such bank, body corporate or company, municipal or quasi-municipal corporation, or belonging to any person or persons, corporation or association, and deposited therein, or in possession thereof, is guilty of embezzlement, a felony, and upon conviction thereof, shall be sentenced to pay a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000), or undergo imprisonment not exceeding five (5) years, or both."

And also under the Act of June 24, 1939, P. L. 872, § 834, 18 PS § 4834, which reads as follows: "Whoever, having received or having possession, in any capacity or by any means or manner, of any money or property, of any kind whatsoever, of or belonging to any other person, or which any other person is entitled to receive and have, fraudulently withholds, converts, or applies the same, or any part thereof, or the proceeds or any part of the proceeds, derived from the sale or other disposition thereof, to and for his own use and benefit, or to and for the use and benefit of any other person, is guilty of a felony, and upon conviction thereof, shall be sentenced to pay a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000), or to undergo imprisonment not exceeding five (5) years, or both."

The African Methodist Episcopal Church is a protestant religious denomination, international in scope,

[ 206 Pa. Super. Page 357]

    with more than one million members. The International church is represented in a so-called connectional manner by a General Conference which meets every four years. The church is administered on an international basis through various districts, committees and societies. The church internationally is divided into seventeen Episcopal districts, each of which is geographically described and is administered by a Bishop who is elected and assigned by the general conference.

Each Episcopal district is subdivided into smaller geographical areas which are governed by what is called Annual Conferences. Each Annual Conference meets yearly to deliberate and determine what course of activity will be pursued for the coming year. These Annual Conferences are administered by the Bishop of the district. The Annual Conference is composed of the individual churches within the geographical area. However, there are smaller subdivisions within the annual conference area which are organized under a presiding elder who is selected by the Annual Conference or by the Bishop. The local churches are generally independent corporations and function on an individual basis. Each of these subdivisions have a great deal of autonomy and operate as independent units.

The Bishop is the chief administrator of the Episcopal district and charged with the temporal and spiritual affairs of the district. How the district prospers is largely due to the administrative leadership of the Bishop. The Church from the time of its founding operated without any central, continuing body on the international level until 1936, when a corporation was formed, entitled the Board of Incorporators of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The duty and purpose of this corporation was to represent the international church under the rules set forth in the discipline of the church which was the governing law; to take title to the real estate held by the international

[ 206 Pa. Super. Page 358]

    organization and to represent it in all phases of its activity and to receive gifts, bequests, etc., in the name of the church and to generally operate as a board of trustees of the general conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. However, the reading of the articles of incorporation and the discipline of the church indicate that even after the incorporation of this group the autonomy of the subdivisions of the church was not greatly affected insofar as their operation and duties were concerned.

The church on the international level together with its various departments and societies were supported by assessments levied upon each member of the church and by collections in the local churches on connectional Sundays which were for specific purposes and which sums were collected in the local church, forwarded to the Bishop, who, in turn, was to forward the money to the various departments and societies at the international level. The finances of the Episcopal districts, the Annual Conference areas and the local churches were raised in the various geographical subdivisions and were disbursed according to the decisions made at the annual conferences and within the local churches. There was no set procedure by which the finances of the church were to be handled and apparently each district had its own method of operation. The local churches were almost completely autonomous in the maintenance, care, expenditure of the funds collected by them, other than those funds collected on connectional Sundays and the assessment of the church which they were bound to forward for use to the international body. Within the Episcopal districts and the Annual Conferences much the same was true.

The discipline is indefinite and conflicting in various sections as to the authority of the Bishop in the handling of funds on the Episcopal district and Annual Conference levels. However, there was a definite

[ 206 Pa. Super. Page 359]

    restriction on his handling or use of any funds for the local individual church.

It was not until 1956 when the general conference held in Miami created what was called a central fund in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and this was known as the General Budget Fund which was to be administered by a general board to be elected by the conference. It was apparently the intention that all funds of the African Methodist Episcopal Church which were raised for connectional purposes, other than the funds of the local individual churches, were to be handled and administered by this board and through this fund. ...


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