It’s not that Robert Kendel isn’t allowed to dress up as Santa. It’s that he didn’t do the paperwork.
As WFTV reports, the 48-year-old from Orange County, Florida has been working as a part-time Santa for years. When the Christmas season hits, Kendel advertises online as “Santa Bob,” a Santa-for-hire available for parties and other events.
Sgt. Rich Mankewich of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office told WFTV:
“He said he’s been [playing Santa] for 33 years. He’s done HOAs, he’s done birthday parties.”
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Kendel has been working at private events as Santa since 2009. His online ad shows him in his Santa suit, and in at least one of the photos, he has a child on his lap.
The problem is that Kendal is a registered sex offender. In 1993, he was convicted of sexual battery involving a child younger than 12.
Kendel was nabbed through a sting operation set up by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. According to Fox 35, an undercover deputy responded to Kendel’s online ad and arranged for him to appear at a Christmas party at the park. Authorities made sure there were no children present, and when Kendel showed up, he was arrested, red suit and all.
But Kendel’s crime wasn’t operating as a Santa while being a registered sex offender. Rather, he was charged with failing to meet offender reporting requirements.
Kendel was required to list his Santa job as employment, as well as his online identifiers — like the email address he used to communicate with his Santa clients. Failure to do so violated his sex offender requirements and landed him in custody.
Kendel told deputies he didn’t know he was required to report that information. He added that the Santa gig is a way to make extra money for Christmas.
His wife told WFTV that there’s no reason for anyone to worry about Kendel playing Santa:
“He’s off probation. He’s off court files. He served his time in prison.”
Kendel’s bond was set at $2,000. Authorities say that while his job raised red flags, it’s up to people hiring a Santa for a holiday event to do a background check. Mankewich told WFTV:
“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.”