Naughty List: Crimes Against Christmas

'Tis the season for spreading cheer, singing carols and breaking the law.

ByLEE FERRAN via logo
December 12, 2008, 2:21 PM

— -- For millions of Americans across the country, the holiday season is a time to gather with friends and family to share old traditions and make new memories.

But for some, it's a time to risk a date with police officers to hear Miranda rights read and make new court appointments.

From robbing from Santa to stealing Christmas trees, some criminals have no shame when it comes to exploiting goodwill and all the trappings of holiday traditions.

Here are some of this year's most notable tales of crimes against Christmas.

For nearly 100 years, the U.S. Postal Service has been answering kids' letters to Santa for its Operation Santa Claus program. Year after year, kids sent letters full of hope to Santa.

But all that stopped this year after 63-year-old Carl Elmer Ranger tried to join in and caused the entire operation's suspension. Why? Generally, volunteers have access to countless of those kids' letters, including their names and return addresses, and Ranger is a convicted sex offender.

According to the state of Maryland's Web site listing of registered sex offenders, Ranger was convicted of sexual abuse of a minor in December 2000.

After Ranger was seen picking up one of the children's letters in Severn, Md., the Postal Service halted operations nationwide. Some of the programs are expected to reopen but under new, more restricted guidelines.

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It's not always grinches on the wrong side of Johnny Law. Santa Chip Cafiero found that out the hard way when he got a parking ticket while handing out presents and candy canes in Brooklyn, N.Y.

According to WABC in New York, Cafiero, a 60-year-old retired schoolteacher decked out as the famous jolly fat man, was happily riding around Brooklyn in a horse-drawn carriage using an SUV to carry the toys and protect the horse. At one point, the SUV was double-parked, and a nearby traffic cop, apparently lacking in the holiday spirit, promptly wrote Santa a ticket, The Associated Press reported.

According to the AP, Santa yelled "Ho! Ho! Ho!" to get the cop's attention, but, as he said, "This grinch just went ahead and fined me."

Cafiero plans to fight the $115 ticket.

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Police of especially sharp wit are famous, thanks to countless cop shows, for putting two and two together. The police officers of Westminister, Calif., are no different.

So when they stumbled onto a cache of holiday decorations after responding to a routine domestic disturbance call, one can imagine the "ah ha!" moment that came when they recalled several theft reports of vanished decorations just like the ones they'd chanced upon.

As the Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 16, a "stockpile" of decorations were strewn throughout the house of 46-year-old Vuong Pham. The decorations spilled outside and included several inflatable Santa figures and fake Christmas trees. It took two city trucks and a police truck to haul the alleged ill-gotten goods to the police station.

Pham faces charges of grand theft and possession of stolen property, police said.

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To call a group of vandals from Rhode Island grinches is a bit of an understatement. As ABC 7 reported Dec. 11, this particular group attacked a yardful of Christmas decorations, completely destroying some figures and disfiguring others.

"They turned the heads on the choir piece backward like in 'The Exorcist,'" one witness said.

What's worse, the display is put up in part to raise money for charity. Police said the donation box was emptied.

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Americans have heard the sounds of the Salvation Army bells for so long that those calls for goodwill donations blend right into the chorus of the holiday season.

Thousands drop some change or a few bills as they pass the red buckets, but Salvation Army officers get especially excited when one of those bills turns out to be a $100 bill. Or, as WXII 12 reported Dec. 9, extremely disappointed when that $100 bill turns out to be counterfeit.

"That high feeling fell fast as soon as we determined this Ben Franklin was a fake, because we had less money to do our job," Salvation Army representative Major Paul Egan told WXII 12.

Well, perhaps the guy who donated a real diamond ring evens this all out.

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On Dec. 4, in the capitol building in Seattle, a large display by an atheist group sat next to a bust of George Washington and, on the other side of George, was a nativity scene. And then it was gone.

The Seattle Times reported Dec. 4 that a thief made off with the sign.

The sign for the display, part of which reads "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds," had sparked controversy since its installment.

In on odd twist, the sign was returned to country music radio station KMPS.

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