Area ‘Santa’ pleads guilty in theft trial
by Hilary Butschek
August 14, 2014 12:30 AM | 2578 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ronald Joseph Papaleoni, well-known locally for playing Santa Claus at Christmas, plead guilty to stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the Lake Allatoona Preservation Authority as its manager.

Papaleoni, 70, of Acworth, was sentenced to 15 years probation Wednesday by Cobb Superior Court Judge Mary Staley after pleading guilty to theft, according to Kim Isaza, spokeswoman for the district attorney.

Papaleoni’s attorney, Rick Kimberly, confirmed his client plead guilty Wednesday.

“He accepts responsibility for his actions regarding LAPA,” Kimberly said.

Papaleoni was general manager of the Lake Allatoona Preservation Authority, a government entity, from 2007 to 2009. During that time, he ran a company called Premier Management that handled the authority’s money and wrote multiple unauthorized checks to himself, according to the district attorney’s office.

Isaza said Papaleoni once wrote a $5,000 check from the authority to the Joy Foundation, which he created and controlled. The Joy Foundation put on annual “Shop with a Cop” events for underprivileged children during which Papaleoni also dressed up as Santa Claus.

Kimberly said he wanted to make it clear Papaleoni’s actions were unrelated to his work with charities.

“There were no allegations that any of this had to do with any of his charity work other than he wrote a check directly from LAPA to one of his charities, so it would benefit the charity, not him,” Kimberly said.

Assistant District Attorney Jason Marbutt said evidence shows Papaleoni stole up to $150,000, but Papaleoni’s attorney refutes the claim, saying the total is much lower.

Isaza said Judge Staley took Papaleoni’s age and previous charity work into account when deciding his sentence. Staley denied Papaleoni first offender status, which would allow Papaleoni to petition later to have the felony removed.

Marbutt said Papaleoni’s crime showed he cannot be trusted.

“The breach of trust is the greater offense. This was not a one-time mistake,” Marbutt said.

Another hearing in the case is set for Sept. 19, which will put it up to the judge to determine how much Papaleoni stole and gauge Papaleoni’s ability to pay it back.

Papaleoni’s attorney, Rick Kimberly, said his client hoped to take jobs playing Santa Claus to help pay the restitution.

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