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A sex offender working as Santa Claus in Jackson County, Missouri, was arrested more than a week before Christmas.
James R. Gray, 50, was arrested and charged with failing to register as a sex offender because he failed to report his employment -- which in this case was as a Santa in a "home decor-type store." The Kansas City Star reports that it's not illegal for a sex offender to portray Santa Claus, but not registering employment is another story.
Why are law enforcement coming down so hard on this sex-offender Santa?
Sex Offender Registration
Each U.S. state has taken steps to categorize certain crimes as sex offenses, requiring those convicted of those crimes to register as sex offenders. The exact crimes requiring registration vary by state, but indecent exposure and any sort of sexual contact with children typically make the list. In this case, Gray had been convicted in California on charges of indecent exposure in 1998 and annoying or molesting a child in 1992.
Missouri's sex offender laws allow a sex offender to be tracked when he or she moves from place to place, and requires registration for life. The laws in Missouri require (among other things) that sex offenders provide work addresses, which are made available online. Gray allegedly failed to provide this information to the sex offender registry, and faces a felony charge for his first failure to register.
Can Sex Offenders Be Santas?
Generally, there is no Santa-specific law that prevents sex offenders from being employed as Santas. There are residency restrictions that prevent sex offenders from living near schools, churches, libraries, and child-care facilities, and employment restrictions may keep sex offenders from being employed as teachers or child-care workers. But it's not impossible for a registered sex offender to work as Santa.
Case in point: A Texas sex offender was briefly detained by police officers for having children in his lap while dressed as Santa at a fast food restaurant in Baytown. According to Houston's KPRC-TV, despite the man having a prior conviction in Ohio for sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy in 1998, it was not a violation of Texas law for him to play Santa with the kids.
Often sex offenders on probation will have conditions that they stay away from minors, but those like Gray who have completed their sentences may not have these restrictions in place.