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Former Santa impersonator charged with raping minor

Defendant was 911 dispatcher and EMT

Staff writer

A former Marion County sheriff’s dispatcher, who also worked as an emergency medical technician and firefighter and played Santa for local preschool children, has been jailed for the past seven weeks on 13 counts, including statutory rape of an 8-year-old in Marion.  

His jailing outside the county was revealed Monday after commissioners were told by Sheriff Robert Craft the county may have to continue paying $30 a day to keep him in a McPherson jail because he knows too much about operations of the Marion jail.

The arrest Dec. 23 of 46-year-old Kenneth Newell of Marion was not reported at the time because he was never booked into Marion County Jail. No standard offense report, which under state law is an open public document, has been released by Marion police, sheriff’s deputies or the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which also participated in the investigation.

After the arrest was disclosed Monday, this newspaper obtained a copy of an official criminal complaint against Newell from the Kansas attorney general’s office, which is handling the case after the county prosecutor Susan Robson requested it take the lead.

The complaint alleges one count of statutory rape, 11 counts of aggravated indecencies for allegedly fondling the child, and one count of aggravated intimidation of a witness or victim. All incidents allegedly involve the same 8-year-old, who by law was not identified by name, and were alleged to have occurred between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2013.

Specific allegations included that Newell repeatedly engaged in “lewd fondling or touching” of the child “with the intent to arouse or satisfy (his) sexual desires” and that he “engaged in sexual intercourse” with the child, according to the complaint.

At the time, Newell also was employed as a part-time contract laborer by Hoch Publishing Co., occasionally delivering sample copies of newspapers in 2012 and 2013. He subsequently was employed part-time by Kansas Publishing Ventures of Hillsboro, delivering weekly copies of the Hillsboro Free Press door-to-door in Marion.

Newell began working as a 911 dispatcher for the county in January 2001, receiving a 10-year longevity raise to $14.89 an hour in 2011. He was placed on leave from his job last summer when the allegations surfaced and a criminal investigation began. He was later terminated.

Records indicate he received a marriage license in November 2013. A member of Good News Christian Fellowship in Marion, he began performing as Santa Claus in 2003, first for Wunderlick Day Care and Sunshine Preschool and eventually at Marion Head Start, Marion City Library and the Marion Christmas parade.

Craft did not mention Newell by name when he informed commissioners Monday that an inmate could not be jailed in Marion. Court records confirmed the identity of Newell, who has been transported twice by Marion sheriff’s deputies from McPherson to the Marion courthouse for hearings that were continued until Feb. 27.

“It’s not so much the individual himself, but the knowledge that individual has of the facility and of the procedure and personnel that is the risk factor,” Craft told commissioners.

Commissioners approved paying McPherson County $30 a day — about $900 for January — to continue jailing Newell. McPherson County did not charge Marion County for December, Craft said.

Commissioners questioned Craft about whether avoiding Marion County’s new jail was necessary.

“That jail is a very secure operation,” commissioner Randy Dallke said. “And even though this person might know who all works there and might know the process — whatever you go through — I would be under the impression that no prisoner could get out without having an inside source help him out.”

Craft replied: “That’s why I don’t want to provide that inside source inside the jail.”

Newell remains incarcerated in lieu of $50,000 bail.

Craft said officers from the sheriff’s department and Marion police investigated after receiving a tip from “an acquaintance of the victim.”

“The preliminary investigation indicated some areas needed further and deeper investigation,” Craft said. “Both departments had a working relationship with this individual. We want to make sure it was handled correctly.”

As a result, he said, Kansas Bureau of Investigation was then brought in to serve as the lead agency in the investigation.

Craft said he tried to work out a prisoner swap, in which Marion County would house a McPherson County inmate in exchange for McPherson County housing Newell. But he said  McPherson officials declined because a swap would create “a huge burden for them they are not really eager to create.”

Newell’s attorney, Steve Atherton of Emporia, declined to comment on the case.

Last modified Feb. 11, 2015

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