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THE CROOK WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS
Florida Man Sentenced for Scamming Children With Holiday Pageant Scheme

12/05/05

Fake Holiday Show PosterIt was billed as a once-in-a-lifetime event for Miami schoolchildren. A three-day "Christmas From Around the World" spectacular, with pageantry, presents, and even live reindeer. But when busloads of teachers, parents, and students arrived for the event in December 2003 clutching their $10 tickets, they found an empty, shuttered convention center and no sign of the "show promoter."

This was business as usual for David Lee Ellisor, a one-time exhibition promoter turned con artist who—as our investigation later revealed—already had scammed schoolchildren in at least five other states with similar fake event schemes.

Months earlier, Ellisor began pitching the fake holiday show to schools across the Miami area. The show, he claimed, would teach children how Christmas is celebrated in other countries. Ellisor mailed out flashy promotional packets and met with school officials, wowing them with promises of a venue decked with Christmas trees and lights, an unforgettable holiday stage show, a lunchtime feast with a Harry Potter look-alike, an exciting scavenger hunt with gifts for every child, and even special guests—ambassadors from 28 different countries.

But the slick sales pitch didn't end there. Ellisor fraudulently named prominent businesses and local police and fire departments as event sponsors. He printed promotional materials on stolen University of Miami letterhead, suggesting the school was involved. And to convince school officials of his good track record in staging similar special events, he showed them a letter he had received eight years earlier—during his legitimate days as a show promoter—from the Miami FBI Field Office. The letter thanked Ellisor for allowing the FBI to participate in a career fair he held at the same convention center.

Parents, teachers, and children alike bubbled with excitement about the show. More than 2,700 students from 22 Miami-area schools handed over $10 each for tickets. Some schools even held bake sales to raise money for children whose families couldn't afford to pay the fee. Ellisor quickly collected more than $38,000 in a bank account he set up for the "event."

But on the morning the holiday spectacular was to begin, Ellisor cleaned out the account while parents and teachers tried to console thousands of devastated children in the convention center parking lot. Later that day, federal warrants charging Ellisor with mail fraud were issued. He quickly used $3,800 of the money to make the final payment on a luxury Jaguar automobile and fled.

Knowing he was wanted by the FBI, Ellisor walked into the Miami federal courthouse in January 2004 and surrendered to U.S. Marshals. Our continuing investigation revealed that he had never intended to hold the pageant and had spent the children's money on lobster dinners, lavish hotel suites, movie rentals, wine, luxury rental cars, special-order clothing, and a $5,000 watch.

Earlier this year, Ellisor was convicted of eight counts of mail fraud. In August, he was sentenced to more than seven years in prison—the high-end of federal sentencing guidelines sought by federal prosecutors—and ordered to pay more than $38,500 in restitution to the children and their families. So much for this modern-day grinch!

Links: Sentencing Press Release | Conviction Press Release