A Raleigh man charged with possession of child pornography on Saturday worked as a Santa Claus for hire in the Triangle under the name “Santa Lee Jones.”
Leander Dewey Jones, 63, was arrested and charged with 12 counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor over the weekend, after police say they found child pornography in his possession.
Jones, who lives on Brentwood Road, was a member of an association of Christmas-time performers in the region known as the Triangle Santa Buddies. Three years ago, another member of the association, John Thomas Peters, was charged with a sex crime. Peters, who went by “Santa John,” was sentenced to 20 months in prison in 2012 for soliciting a 15-year-old girl for sex.
“We are saddened and distressed,” Al Capehart, who founded Triangle Santa Buddies and runs the group’s meetings, said of the allegations against Jones. “It’s going to require us to re-evaluate our membership.”
Capehart said that it was too early to determine what concrete action the group would take. The website for Triangle Santa Buddies was taken down Monday afternoon, displaying an error message: “Down for Maintenance.”
Jim Hastings of Durham, another member of the organization, said Triangle Santa Buddies is not a formal association and does not conduct background checks, adding that he provides that information to clients individually. Jones had no prior criminal convictions in North Carolina, which would have been found in a background check.
“We’re basically an educational, social organization,” Hastings said, adding that the organization does not keep track of the jobs that each member works. Neither Hastings nor Capehart knew where Jones had worked as a Santa.
Jones joined Triangle Santa Buddies in 2014, according to information posted on the group’s website. His profile was removed Monday morning, prior to the website being taken down.
Raleigh police charged Jones with possession of pornographic images beginning in August of 2014, according to the warrant for his arrest, which was issued Saturday.
Police estimated that the ages of the prepubescent children in the photographs ranged from 9 years to 18 months. Among the images found were those of children being sexually assaulted by adult men and having sex with other children.
Jones is being held in Wake County jail on $1 million bail, increased from $600,000 in a hearing Monday afternoon.