FORBS' War of the Santas

St. Nicks across the country keep fighting for control of America's premier Santa organization

Also fed up, Hartsfield took back the group's AORBS URL, which he had registered years earlier in his name. The action shut down AORBS' web activity. Hartsfield claimed this provoked threats from Trolli, who denied the charge. On Feb. 7, 2008, Trolli registered the AORBSinc.com domain and was back in business (for a while, anyway. . . . The last entry on the website is a 2008 post). Just a few days earlier, Trolli had created SantaCheck.com, asking site visitors, "Is your child safe on that lap?"

It continues, "SantaCheck tries to check the Santa you are thinking about taking your kids to. There are some who put on a red suit and think that is all it takes to earn the right to be with your child. . . . Some of these 'santas' do have a foul mouth."

Trolli and Germann were locked and loaded to go after their Santa adversaries.

Jolly ol' Saint Ric
Riley Kern
Jolly ol' Saint Ric
Real-bearded Santa Timothy Connaghan
Riley Kern
Real-bearded Santa Timothy Connaghan

*     *     *

Some Santas complained to the Kentucky attorney general's office about AORBS Inc., particularly the alleged failure of the board to provide an accurate accounting of the group's finances, which come chiefly from $20 annual member dues. In April 2008, the Kentucky state attorney general's office forwarded its file to the Charitable Organizations Bureau in Pennsylvania, where Trolli lived and where AORBS Inc. was then based. Also in April 2008, amidst all the turmoil, Santa Ric became a founding charter member of FORBS, the newly formed AORBS successor. Started as a national organization, it later became a regional group.

On June 10, 2008, Santa Ric posted on Yahoo! Group SantaTalk a piece titled "God Damn Your Eternal Soul Nick Trolli." Santa Ric . . . a Santa curse?

"Notice that I did NOT address him as 'Santa,'" Ric explained about his cyber-outburst. "I was under stress at the time. Santa Milt Cottrell of Omaha—one of my best friends—had died suddenly, and Nick Trolli had the gall to put up an anti-Milt post."

On July 7, 2008, Pennsylvania's Secretary of the Commonwealth issued a cease-and-desist order to AORBS Inc., charging them with, among other things, unlawfully soliciting charitable contributions without registering with the state. Germann responded that the group's books were "aboveboard," while Trolli said the group was "cooperating" with the state agency.

By July 2008, AORBS Inc. membership had fallen to a few dozen Santas, according to Erwin, mostly new members who were reportedly being told by Trolli that he, as their group's leader, was under attack by a group of disgruntled ex-members. On July 29, 2008, Santa Ric led individual Santas and groups previously associated with AORBS in issuing a "Declaration of Santa Unity" against AORBS Inc. On the AORBSInc.com website, Trolli wrote, "The make-up of the organization has gone through some dark times. . . . Some members did not want to belong to a group that was not owned by Tim Connaghan. Others remained steadfastly committed to their Brothers in Red of AORBS. AORBS is growing again, and the members are determined to live up to our title . . . under the leadership of Nicholas Trolli—'The Nation's Premier Fraternity of A-List Santas.'"

The mainstream media picked up the tale. In 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported on the Santa "Civil War," and NPR's This American Life dug into the story. The Kansas convention of Discover Santa 2008 sponsored by AORBS Inc. never happened. Trolli blamed former AORBS members for its demise, allegedly brought on by a campaign to dissuade vendors and fellow Santas from attending. That fall, Trolli and Germann went on the offensive, using their SantaCheck.com to punish enemies real and imagined.

On Sept. 29, 2008, they wrote about "a 'Santa' who is sexually attracted to overweight older men." The report said a Florida Santa—"a member of the International Order of Santas"—"has removed his shocking, disgusting links to adult sites that feature him in the nude." Apparently, according to SantaCheck.com, this Santa "got our website SantaCheck.com turned off" because he "was upset that we exposed his gay lifestyle. Specifically, a lifestyle wherein he sexually pursued FAT OLDER MEN."

SantaCheck.com also targeted Santa Ric in numerous posts. On Oct. 16, 2008, Trolli and Germann published "Santa's Girthday Party?"

"Just in case you all forgot about the most foul 'santa' page we have found, do NOT forget about Ric Erwin, the LA Fair 'santa claus' from Laguna Niguel," someone wrote. "We previously reported that Ric Erwin . . . posted on his ricnvic.com video site a video of his Birthday Party. Oh, wait, it wasn't his Birthday Party, he . . . called it 'Santa's Girthday Party.'"

The online video referenced in their post was Erwin's and titled "How Santa Got His Yule Log Back," showing Santa Ric watching a belly dancer.

By 2010, things had cooled down at SantaCheck.com. The last post went up on April 14, 2010, targeting yet another Trolli critic. In a June 25, 2009, post titled "Naughty Traveling Claus Clan Shames the Name of Santa," Defendingsanta.com spanked a Connaghan Santa summer cruise for allowing Santas in full garb to get their pics taken at a well-known Alaskan touristy "brothel museum." Then the site "editor" completely harshed the Santa mellow with lines, unsupported by citation of sources, such as "Over the past several years, the industry of professional Santa Claus services has been rocked by scandals ranging from infighting and greed within professional Santa organizations to ongoing issues with Santas accused (and in some cases convicted) of predatory crimes against children."

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