Whose Lap Is That, Anyway? Mall Santa Background Checks


Santa Claus may be checking his list twice, but who’s checking out the big guy himself?

American pop culture seems to have a permanent place for a drunken Santas in TV and movies.  Something about the irony must be irresistible to screenwriters.  But how likely is it really that your local mall Santa is someone you wouldn’t let near your kids?

Read on to find out…

Mall Santa background checks

Every year thousands of malls, department stores and other locales hire people to play Santa Claus through the holiday season, and most hire through one of several companies specializing in Santas, such as Cherry Hill Photos or Noerr Programs. These companies perform extensive background checks on their seasonal employees, including criminal record and sexual offender database checks as well as drug tests.

A recent national survey conducted by a company providing background checks for job applicants found that about seven percent of applicants for seasonal Santa employment were ineligible due to crimes such as indecent exposure, assault, drunken driving, soliciting prostitution, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. This is lower than average, said Kelly Smith, media relations manager for Pre-employ.com. About nine percent of the general job-seeking population has a criminal record. Typically convictions are checked back seven years.

On the Naughty List

Even with these precautions, criminals sometimes fall through the cracks. Last year Greg Nies pled guilty to 22 counts of possession of child pornography, seven counts of unlawful contact with children, seven counts of corruption of minors, and one count each of aggravated indecent assault and indecent assault. The 53-year-old resident of Lititz, Pennsylvania, had played Santa Claus for the town for years, but his background was only investigated when he attempted to run for mayor.

Memorial Mall in Sheboygan, Wisconsin had to find a new Santa a week before Christmas 2009, after his supervisors learned their current Kris Kringle had been convicted of sex with a minor. A third-party company that performed the mall Santa’s background check missed the convictions because the man legally changed his name in 2008 and used his new name on his job application.

Worst mall Santas

The prize for the worst Santa Claus ever goes to Wayne Corliss, who was arrested in May 2008 after an Interpol manhunt. He admitted to traveling to Thailand for sex with minors, and was ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison for crimes including distribution and possession of child pornography and traveling to foreign countries to engage in illegal sexual activity. Corliss was described by acquaintances as witty, friendly, and “the best Santa Claus anyone had ever seen.”

And of course background checks can’t predict everything. A Los Angeles mall Santa lost it during the 1999 Christmas season, apparently having dealt with one too many crying children.  When one mom retrieved her cranky 19-month-old, the Santa reportedly asked her “Was it worth it? Was it worth it for you to torture your child for a picture? You must be an evil person.” Santa then ripped off his red suit and took off to a nearby store, where mall security guards caught up with him and escorted him away.