- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

ELWOOD, Ind. (AP) - The colorfully decorated Santa House in downtown Elwood sits empty, and there are no plans for Santa Claus to make another appearance this holiday season.

Some say it’s because he’s a bad Santa, a really bad Santa — the kind who would face a charge of unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon.

You see, the city of Elwood had Santa Claus characters lined up. But one of the Santas was Mack Gardner, who faces exactly that charge in Madison Circuit Court 3. He was released from jail after posting a $20,000 bond last April and is scheduled for trial in March 3.

According to a probable cause affidavit by Elwood police, Gardner is alleged to have provided a handgun to his cousin, William Thompson Jr.

The Santa House, located in downtown Elwood, was scheduled to have Santa Claus visiting with local children Wednesdays through Sundays.

Several children were disappointed recently when they went to the house and found it vacant, a city worker told The Herald Bulletin (https://bit.ly/138YhO9 ). The sign with the hours that Santa would be available was removed by a city employee on Dec. 8, and a sign on the door noted that Santa was in the North Pole and directed visitors to leave a note for him.

When asked to comment Friday on whether background checks had been conducted on the men who would portray Santa Claus, Elwood city spokesman Jeff Howe declined. Mayor Ron Arnold did not return a request to comment on the matter from The Herald Bulletin. Thompson has a felony conviction in Alabama for assault. He told police that Gardner provided him the weapon for his protection.

Gardner’s attorney, Bryan Williams, said Monday he was unaware that Gardner had taken the Santa spot but Williams said there was no legal reason why he couldn’t take the job.

Gardner told police he left the handgun at a friend’s house, and that is where his cousin obtained the weapon. He claims to have never given Thompson the gun.

Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said that, since Gardner is not convicted and probably not prohibited from being around children, the law does not forbid him to portray Santa Claus for children.

“It’s really more of an issue to be addressed by his employer in the city of Elwood,” Cummings said. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable if it was my children. It doesn’t seem like a prudent move.”

Lisa Gustin, a member of the committee putting together Christmas season events in Elwood, said Gardner was Santa Claus at the breakfast with Santa on Dec. 5 and has been in the Santa House a couple times. Gustin said Gardner told the committee about his arrest and the allegations during the interview process.

Last week, Gustin said, the city used another Santa. But he was physically incapable of sitting for four hours for the children.

___

Information from: The Herald Bulletin, https://www.theheraldbulletin.com


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