Postal Service Suspends Operation Santa After Maryland Pedophile Tries to Join In




Carl Elmer Ranger, a 68-year-old registered sex offender, has been identified as the man who halted Operation Santa Claus
after he picked up one of the hundreds of thousands of letters written to Santa by needy children. (AP/ABC News)

The United States Postal Service has suspended its 90-year-old Operation Santa Claus program after a registered sex offender in Maryland was caught trying to join in.

Workers at a post office in Severn, Md. spotted 68-year old Carl Elmer Ranger after he picked up one of the estimated hundreds of thousands of letters written to Santa by needy children that end up in the postal service program that encourages volunteers to become a substitute Santa, postal officials told ABCNews.com.

The letters contain the names and the home addresses of children.

According to the state of Maryland's web-site listing of registered sex offenders, Ranger was convicted of sexual abuse of a minor. He moved to his address in Severn just last month, according to the state's listing which describes his status as "compliant."

According to state court records, Ranger pleaded guilty in Dec. 2000 to one of 18 counts of child abuse brought against him. His four-year prison sentence was suspended and he was placed under house arrest for six months and ordered to undergo psychiatric counseling and have no contact with his victim or children under the age of 18.

A postal worker recognized Ranger as he picked up the Santa letter in the Severn post office last week, and postal service employees retrieved the Santa letter from him and notified the family of the child.

The program was suspended across the country on Wednesday, with no public notification of what had happened. The New York Times first reported the problem today.

Operation Santa Claus began informally in the 1920's, according to the postal service, when clerks in New York began to chip in to buy presents for "poor kids whose notes to Santa ended up in the dead-letter office."

The letters to Santa from the dead-letter office became famed when they were featured in the movie, Miracle on 34th Street.

The program was originally run out of New York at the James A. Farley postal building in Manhattan, but in 2006 Operation Santa Claus was expanded to post offices around the country and now has its own website.

The USPS said no one was harmed and that while public participation was suspended, postal employees continued to open and respond to letters.

According to the postal service, the New York City and Chicago programs will re-open this weekend but under a different set of rules. The name and address of the child will be blacked out and "substitute Santa's" will have to send their gifts through the postal service.

A representative for the New York program said its employees pushed for the program to be re-opened, partly because 15,000 letters are still waiting to be adopted. The office receives about 500,000 letters a year.

"We wanted to make sure that we could still continue to have New Yorkers be Santa's emissaries," USPS New York Spokeswoman Monica Hand said. She said employees are currently working to prepare the letters for adoption by photocopying them and blacking out information.

Calls to Ranger's home were answered with a recorded message that said he was "not accepting calls at this time."