Santa Claus impersonator gets 15 years probation for theft

Updated:

COBB COUNTY, Ga —

A man who once dressed up as Santa Claus for underprivileged children has been sentenced to 15 years probation after he admitted to stealing tens of thousands of dollars.

Ronald Joseph Papaleoni, former manager of the Lake Allatoona Preservation Authority (LAPA), pleaded guilty Wednesday for stealing from the organization.

Papaleoni ran a company called Premier Management that handled funds for LAPA. According to officials, from 2007-2009 Papaleoni wrote unauthorized checks to himself.

Officials say he also wrote a $5,000 check from LAPA to the Joy Foundation, which he created and controlled. The Joy Foundation hosted annual “Shop with a Cop” events for underprivileged children in which Papaleoni would dress up as Santa Claus.

Attorney Jason Marbutt believes that Papaleoni stole as much as $150,000 while Papaleoni's defense team believes it was much less.

Marbutt asked Judge Mary E. Staley to deny "First Offender" status, which would allow Papaleoni to avoid a felony record.

The judge agreed.

“This is not a First Offender case. This was repetitive behavior. It was taking advantage of someone who gave you trust,” she said.

A restitution hearing is scheduled for Sept. 19, when the judge will determine how much was really taken, as well as Papaleoni’s ability to pay it back.