Santa Claus led away in handcuffs because he didn’t report his job as a pro Santa

Robert Bruce Kendel’s booking photo at Orange County Jail on Nov. 27, 2018.
Robert Bruce Kendel’s booking photo at Orange County Jail on Nov. 27, 2018. Orange County Sheriff's Office

Deputies in a central Florida county cleared a park before the arrival of Robert Bruce Kendel.

The image of Santa Claus being led off in handcuffs would have been upsetting enough.

But the main reason officers from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office cleared the park on Tuesday is that they had received an anonymous tip that Kendel, 48, was playing Santa Claus without disclosing his employment as a Santa, according to ABC’s WFTV 9.

Kendel is a registered sex offender, having been convicted in 1993 of sexual battery on a child 12 or younger, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records.

After receiving the tip on Nov. 21, Orange County Sgt. Rich Mankewich contacted Kendel via Kendel’s Craigslist ad in which he sold his professional services as “Santa Bob.” The deputy offered him $80 to portray Santa at a “corporate event” at Rose Place Park.

When Kendel arrived in full Santa regalia he was arrested and charged with violating the terms of his sex offender registry, according to Orange County Jail records.

Kendel, who lives in Orlando, is not legally barred from working as a professional Santa, a role he reportedly has played at private events since at least 2009. But the terms of his 1993 conviction require that he must report his employment and the email address or other online means he uses to communicate with clients to authorities, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Kendel’s wife Kim told WFTV: “He’s off probation. He’s off court files. He served his time in prison.” She told the station that Kendel is trying to earn extra money for their family during the holiday season and that there’s no reason to be concerned about his portrayal as the familiar Christmas season character in the red suit and white beard beloved by young children.

Deputies’ message to families, according to Fox 8: People ought to conduct background checks before hiring someone in costume, such as a holiday Santa. Also, those convicted of sexual offenses need to register their employment with authorities.

Kendel’s bond was set at $2,000 on Wednesday on the third-degree felony charge.

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Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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