Caught red-suited: Sex offender arrested for trying to play Santa, deputies say

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Robert Kendel, 48, used the name “Santa Bob” in his Craigslist ads to advertise himself as a professional Santa Claus, deputies said. The ad includes a photo of himself with a child on his lap.

Kendel is a registered sex offender. According to records, Kendel sexually battered a child under the age of 12 in the early 1990s

Deputies said Kendel did not list any employment when he registered.

Sgt. Rich Mankewich, from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, said he contacted Kendel through Craigslist. The two agreed to meet at Rose Place Park off Apopka-Vineland Road for what Kendel thought was a corporate picnic, Mankewich said.

Investigators cleared the park of children. When Kendel showed up dressed in his Santa suit, the two exchanged money. Then investigators took him into custody. He faces charges related to violating the terms of his sex offender registration, which includes reporting employment.

“He said he’s been [playing Santa] for 33 years,” Mankewich said. “He’s done (homeowners associations), he’s done birthday parties.”

The Sheriff's Office said an anonymous tip led to the arrest.

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