Feds Uncover Secret Santa Ring

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Vol 35 Issue 46

Eyes Removed In Violent Yearbook Attack

EVANSVILLE, IN—An unidentified eraser-wielding vandal rubbed out the eyes of graduating senior Paulette Conreid in Erika Franklin's personal copy of "Transitions," the 1999 Evansville West High School yearbook, EWHS sources reported Monday. "I am so totally bumming," Franklin said. "Who would do something like that to Paulette? She's, like, the biggest sweetie I know." The primary suspect in the attack is Jenny Logan, who, as everyone in school knows, has a huge crush on Jeff Lowe, Conreid's boyfriend.

Broncos, Jaguars Helmets Sustain Severe Damage In Monday Night Football Helmet Collision

JACKSONVILLE, FL—A pair of NFL helmets were severely damaged Monday in an explosive head-on collision during a broadcast of ABC's Monday Night Football. "We are still reconstructing the incident, searching for any clue as to what could have gone wrong," Monday Night Football play-by-play announcer Al Michaels said of the catastrophe, which occurred minutes before kickoff and was seen live by an estimated 17 million television viewers. "The helmets were securely chained to their respective space-platforms by four safety tethers, and there was no reason to suspect they would be able to break free." Witnesses said the chained helmets, which directly faced each other on their platforms, seemed increasingly angry and agitated in the moments leading up to the disaster.

Buchanan Reveals Thousands Of Americans Made In China

TOPEKA, KS—During a speech Monday before members of the Topeka VFW Hall, a concerned Pat Buchanan said that "hundreds of thousands" of U.S. citizens were made in Communist China. "These shoddy, Asian-looking, 'knock-off' Americans are the mass-produced product of non-union, low-wage parents," the Reform Party presidential hopeful told VFW members. "Every day, these knock-offs are exported from China to our shores, where they are free to intermingle with real, made-in-the-U.S.A. Americans." Buchanan added that if he wins the presidency, he would impose stiff tariffs against U.S.-citizen-producing nations and return all bootleg Americans to their nation of origin.

The Mars Polar Lander

On Dec. 7, NASA mysteriously lost all contact with the $165 million Mars Polar Lander. Among the leading theories as to what went wrong:

I Think I'm Such Hot Shit

Boy, what is up with me? I strut around like I'm God's gift to the world or something. I think I'm so fascinating, I'm convinced everybody's just dying to listen to me ramble on about myself for hours on end. It's getting more obvious to me every day: I think I'm such hot shit!

Man Of The Millennium: Death

[image:29982]As humanity moves into the dawn of a new and uncertain future, we look back upon our collective past. In the annals of history, many have achieved greatness, yet one individual towers above all others as the most significant single force of the last thousand years. Whether in war or peace, feast or famine, prosperity or economic ruin, the Man Of The Millennium has touched all our lives. No one has had a greater, more permanent impact on our shared human condition.

Life Begins At Conception vs. Life Begins At 40!

Life begins at the moment of conception. To say otherwise is not only to deny the word of God, but to defy science. An abortion takes the life of a living person, whether the procedure occurs in the first week of pregnancy or the last.
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Report: Dad Wants To Show You Where Fuse Box Is

YOUR LOCATION—Noting that it’s important to be prepared in case of emergencies but it’s also a good thing to know in general, your dad announced today that he wants to show you where the fuse box is.

Feds Uncover Secret Santa Ring

BLOOMINGTON, IN—The FBI arrested 34 people and seized $157 in small, tasteful presents Monday in what is believed to be the largest bust of a Secret Santa ring in U.S. history.

An FBI official holds one of the seized gifts.

The ring's base of operations, FBI director Louis Freeh said, was Creative Concepts, a Bloomington-area marketing firm. According to Freeh, all of the ring's participants were employees of Creative Concepts, mostly working in the secretarial pool and mail room, with a few coming from the client-services and accounting departments.

"It took nearly two years to secure sufficient hard evidence and eyewitness testimony, but we feel we have a solid case against them," said Freeh following the raid. "We believe that this Secret Santa ring had been operating at Creative Concepts for upwards of 15 years, and that thousands of gifts, from Dilbert coffee mugs to giant Hershey kisses, had been exchanged during that period of time. We are hopeful that the reign of Yuletide graft and corruption that has infested this company for so long has finally come to an end."

Among the items seized in the raid were three Sheaffer ballpoint pens, a bag of Jelly Belly jelly beans, two poinsettia plants, an Indianapolis Colts Christmas-tree ornament, a box of Ferrero Rocher bon bons, a Mannheim Steamroller CD, a 4"x6" silver picture frame, a Mooch The Monkey Beanie Baby, a pair of mittens, a Dorf On Golf video and several items believed to have originated from a mall-based Successories store.

Despite the success of Monday's raid, much about Secret Santa operations remains unknown. It is generally accepted by criminologists that Secret Santaism is a seasonal practice taking place exclusively around Christmastime, and involves the exchange of gifts, usually costing no more than $10 each.

According to Lester Long, a freelance criminal profiler and analyst, cracking a Secret Santa ring is difficult, because "the key to Secret Santaism is anonymity."

"The ring members commence their operations by writing their names on small scraps of paper, then surreptitiously placing the scraps in a hat or a small bucket or tin," Long said. "Then, each member quietly draws a single name and does not divulge who this person is to anyone. Nor does this member know who drew out his or her own name. Everyone is sworn to total silence and secrecy. This means participants are able to cover their tracks and protect each other's identity."

Added Long: "That's why it's so hard to run surveillance on suspected Secret Santa ring members when they go shopping—for all we know, they could be buying gifts for family members or friends. So possible civil-rights violations come into play. It's ingenious, really."

The Creative Concepts sales office that served as headquarters for the Secret Santa ring.

Sorely lacking in circumstantial evidence, law-enforcement officials have come to depend on information from informants and infiltrators planted in suspected Secret Santa rings. Much of what is known about these schemes comes from now-retired FBI agent Clayton "Hap" Roemer, who, posing as a claims adjustor, infiltrated a Secret Santa ring at a Freehold, NJ, insurance firm in the late 1960s.

Roemer detailed his experiences in his 1982 book Santa's Secrets: My Harrowing Undercover Life In The Center Of An Office Yuletide Racket.

"At times, work came to a virtual standstill as people chatted about the items they hoped to get on 'Secret Santa Day,' which normally coincided with the regular, perfectly legal office Christmas party," Roemer wrote. "A pair of white gloves for church? A Harold Robbins novel? Anything was possible for a Secret Santa, provided it was under the agreed monetary limit."

Roemer's work resulted in the arrest of 22 people and the eventual dismantling of the Freehold office racket. But despite this and subsequent decades of similar efforts, Secret Santaism still thrives to this day.

"Today's Secret Santa participants are far more savvy than those of Agent Roemer's time," Long said. "For example, they've learned not to post gift wish lists on the break-room board—that's an instant give away that Secret Santa activities are present. They also avoid using intra-office e-mail, which can be read by managerial higher-ups, and they assiduously destroy any evidence of a Secret Santa party, such as gift wrap, Dixie Cups and leftover poundcake."

Crime historians believe Secret Santa rings got their start among the office employees of a storage-and-transfer business in New York's Lower East Side in the late 1950s. From there, it slowly spread, finding its way into businesses throughout New England and the upper Midwest. By the mid-1970s, it had made its way to the burgeoning Sun Belt and the West Coast.

The accused members of the Creative Concepts Secret Santa ring are scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate on Jan. 15. They are charged with first-degree racketeering and improper expectation of gifts from professional colleagues.

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