Orlando, FL – A sex offender who said he has been playing the role of Santa Claus for over 30 years has been arrested for violating his sex offender registration requirement by withholding his employment information.
An anonymous tipster alerted the Orange County Sheriff’s Office that 48-year-old Robert Kendel was advertising his Santa Claus services on Craigslist, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Kendel went by the name of “Santa Bob” in his ads, which included photographs of him dressed in his costume with a child sitting on his lap, WBTV reported.
He was convicted of sexual battery of a child under the age of 12 on July 6, 1993, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) records.
Police said that, although Kendel is not banned from having a job where parents pay him to allow their children to sit on his lap, he is required to disclose any employment as part of his sexual offender registration requirements, WFTV reported.
When Orange County Sheriff’s Sergeant Rich Mankewich realized that Kendal had not reported that he was working as Santa Claus, he contacted him through Craigslist.
The undercover deputy then arranged to meet up with Kendel at Rose Place Park for what the sex offender believed was an office picnic.
Sgt. Mankewich paid him $80 when he showed up in his costume, then officers placed him under arrest, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Prior to the encounter, police cleared the park of children, so they did not witness the Santa lookalike being placed in handcuffs, according to WFTV.
“He said he’s been [playing Santa] for 33 years,” Sgt. Mankewich told WFTV. “He’s done [Home Owners’ Associations], he’s done birthday parties.”
According to police, if Kendel would have reported his employment as required, he wouldn’t have been charged with anything.
"We, the sexual offenders squad, don't want him to have this kind of job, but there's really not much we can do about it," Sgt. Mankewich said.
Kendel’s wife, Kim Kendel, said that her husband was just trying to earn extra money, and didn’t see any reason why people would be alarmed that he was dressing up as Santa Claus.
“He’s off probation. He’s off court files,” Kim railed. “He served his time in prison.”
Kendel’s bond has been set at $2,000.
He remained in jail as of Thursday afternoon, according to the FDLE.