- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Raleigh, North Carolina children’s entertainer who dressed as Santa Claus at area shopping malls and performed magic tricks at parties pleaded guilty Monday to one count of manufacturing child pornography.

Leander Dewey Jones, 64, had produced child porn featuring his own grandchildren, federal prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of North Carolina said this week.

Authorities began investigating Jones in 2015 after he brought his desktop computer to a repair shop in Raleigh where a technician examining the hard drive discovered a folder containing child pornography. Local police were soon notified, and executed a search warrant on his home that week.

Jones was subsequently arrested in June 2015 by the Raleigh Police Department on 12 counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, but prosecutors later determined that the amount of files discovered on his hard drive had surpassed the threshold needed to bring federal charges, reported WTVD, a Raleigh ABC News station.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, investigators uncovered roughly 5,000 images of child pornography in all, and determined that he had produced his own with his two grandchildren while he was taking care of them.

Prior to his arrest, Jones performed as a magician and pirate at children’s parties, and worked under the same “Santa Lee Jones” during Christmastime as a shopping mall santa. He had also been a member since 2014 of the Triangle Santa Buddies — a regional “fraternal association dedicated to enhancing the Christmas experience for children of all ages,” according to the group’s website — but his profile was removed following his arrest last June.

“We are saddened and distressed,” the group’s founder, Al Capehart, told the News & Observer when Jones was arrested. “It’s going to require us to re-evaluate our membership.”

Bizarrely, this week’s plea is the second of its kind this month. Reynaldo Ramirez, who portrayed Santa Claus at events around south Texas, pleaded guilty to distribution of child pornography one week earlier.

Those weren’t the only such incidents in recent years, either. John Thomas Peters, who belonged to the same Triangle Santa Buddies organization as Jones, pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and soliciting sex by computer in 2012, WRAL reported.

Jones will face a maximum of 30 years in prison when he’s sentenced, currently scheduled for August 1.

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