A Florida man and registered sex offender was arrested after police say he was working as a Santa Claus impersonator without properly informing authorities about his job. Robert Kendel was arrested by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office on November 27, according to court documents.
The 48-year-old Orlando resident has been required to register as a sex offender for several decades after being convicted of sexually assaulting a child. Police say he would work at corporate events, private parties and for homeowner’s associations and featured photos of him with children sitting on his lap in Craigslist advertisements for his services.
According to the sheriff’s office, it is not illegal for Kendel, who is no longer on probation, to dress up as Santa as his job. But he is accused of failing to provide information about his employment as a private contractor on his sex offender registration forms and of not providing authorities with information about online accounts he used as part of his business, including an email address and Facebook profile.
“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,” Sergeant Rich Mankewich told WFTV. He said an anonymous tip led to Kendel’s arrest.
Here’s what you need to know about Robert Kendel:
1. Kendel Was Arrested After Agreeing to Work as Santa at a Corporate Event for $80 in a Sting Set Up by an Undercover Deputy
According to court documents, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department received an anonymous tip on November 21 that Robert Kendel was “dressing up as Santa and attending Christmas parties and events.” Investigators found Kendel advertised his employment of being a “professional Santa” in Craigslist ads.
Deputy Joshua Yatsko wrote in the arrest affidavit obtained by Heavy, “I was able to view Robert Bruce Kendel’s Craigslist ad which contained three photographs of him dressed as Santa. One of the pictures shows a child sitting on Santa’s lap.” Yatsko wrote that Kendel said in his ad that he charged for attending events and for photos.
Sergeant Rich Mankewich contacted Kendel through the ad on November 26 and set up a meeting with Kendel for an “office party,” according to the affidavit. Kendel agreed to show up at Orlando Rose Place Park at noon on November 27 as Santa for $80, Yatsko wrote.
According to the affidavit, Mankewich met Kendel at that time and gave him $80. Kendel was wearing a “full Santa outfit with black shoes, red pants with white trim, a red coat with white trim, a red and white Santa hat and fake white beard.”
Kendal was arrested at the park as he took group photos with undercover deputies. Police said no children witnessed the arrest.
2. He Told Police He Had Been Dressing as Santa Claus for 30 Years as ‘Santa Bob’ & Began Charging for Private Events After Getting Off Probation in 2009
When he was interviewed by investigators, Kendel was “hesitant” when asked how long he had been dressing up as Santa and attending events, according to the arrest affidavit. He said he would do about two events each year and had been charging for events since 2009, when he completed his probation.
Kendel told police he advertised through word of mouth and Craigslist. Kendel said he had posted a Craigslist ad as recently as a week before his arrest. He said he used the nickname “Santa Bob.”
Sergeant Mankewich told WFTV, “He said he’s been [playing Santa] for 33 years. He’s done HOAs, he’s done birthday parties.”
Deputies told the news station that people and businesses should do background checks before hiring costumed performers, especially if the event includes children.
3. Kendel Was Convicted of Sexual Battery of a Child Under 12 in 1993 & Was Sentenced to 7 Years in State Prison
Robert Kendel was convicted of sexual battery of a child under the age of 12 in 1993 in Orange County, Florida. According to online records, he was sentenced to seven years in state prison and 10 years of probation. During the time after being released from prison, Kendel was convicted at least once of violating his probation.
Further details about the case that landed Kendel on the sex offender registry were not immediately available.
According to court documents, Kendel is accused of violating his requirements as a sex offender by not providing information about his employment and online accounts to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement when he most recently updated his registration on October 25.
Police said in court documents that Kendel did not list any email accounts in the registration, despite using one on the Craigslist ad. He told deputies he didn’t know he had to register his email. He also said he had a Facebook account, but deactivate dit a few weeks ago.
Deputies also said Kendel was required to list his private Santa event business on his registration forms and did not do so. Kendel told deputies he understood he had to register part time or full time, but did not believe the Santa work was a business. Deputies told Kendel that he created a business transaction when he took payment for an office Christmas party.
4. He Is Married & His Wife Says Her Husband Was Trying to Earn Extra Money for the Holidays
Kendel is married and has two young children, according to his wife’s Facebook page. His wife, Kim Kendel, told WFTV her husband was trying to make extra money for the family over the holidays. She told the news station she doesn’t think there is any reason to be concerned about his role as Santa.
“He’s off probation. He’s off court files. He served his time in prison,” she said.
Kendel also told police when he was arrested, “I was just trying to make extra money for my family,” according to the affidavit obtained by Heavy.
According to court documents, Kendel, who has a college degree, is unemployed and hasn’t had a job for the past six years. He previously worked at a Sonic fast food restaurant for five years.
5. Kendel Is Being Held at the Orange County Jail on $2,000 Bail
Kendel was held without bail overnight at the Orange County Jail after his arrest. He made his first court appearance Wednesday and his bail was set at $2,000. Online jail records show Kendel was still in custody as of Wednesday night.
If convicted of the sex offender violation charge, a third-degree felony, Kendel could be sentenced to up to five years in state prison. He could additionally be sentenced to probation.
It is not clear if Kendel has hired an attorney and he could not be reached for comment by Heavy.