If you are like most people in Pennsylvania, you’ve probably been watching with horror at the developments that have come out about the Steelton Water Treatment Plant over the past year. No one wants to think about dangers in the water, even if you are here in Philadelphia, away from the affected area. Still, with the preliminary hearing for former chief operator of the plant Daniel P. Scheitrum for the criminal charges related to falsifying the records to cover up this dangerous health breach coming up, many people are wondering what kind of punishments he may really be facing.

For the actual falsification of documents, Scheitrum faces two counts of public records tampering. In Pennsylvania, public records tampering is usually a misdemeanor carrying up to two years of jail time and a $5000 fine. The exception to this is when tampering with the records intends to defraud or injure someone, at which point it becomes a felony. Felony public records tampering is considered a felony in the third degree, which carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine.

Who Can Be Charged with Tampering with Public Records?

While we usually only hear about record tampering charges during public scandals like this, it’s not just politicians and public administrators who can be charged for tampering with public records. Under Pennsylvania law, anyone who knowingly makes a false entry into a record for the government or otherwise required by law or alters, destroys, conceals, or otherwise changes the veracity of such a record can be charged with tampering with a public record.

Similarly, anyone who presents a record knowing that it contains false information can be charged with public records tampering. It’s important to know that the person must be aware that the information is false in order to be arrested—an employee who is lied to about the data used in a report is not responsible for reporting back the false data unless they have a duty to audit any findings.

Because of this wide definition, anyone who makes false claims in a public report may find themselves arrested—even if the alterations were not intended to cause anyone any harm. Even a small manipulation of numbers can be considered a violation, so any government-affiliated employee should be aware of the potential ramifications of a misrepresentation.

Over the next few months, we will find out whether or not Scheitrum will end up facing jail time for this incident. In the meantime, the public should look at this case as a warning. False reports can not only lead to criminal charges, but also do real damage to thousands of people.

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