HUNTLEY – A former substance abuse counselor and convicted sex offender will serve two years of probation for dressing up like Santa Claus at a Huntley animal shelter's Christmas fundraiser.
Taylor Blaul, 33, of the 5700 block of Aspen Court, Crystal Lake, apologized during his sentencing Wednesday in McHenry County court.
Blaul previously was sentenced to four months in McHenry County Jail and three years of probation for sexually abusing a young boy.
In 2014, Blaul was seen kissing a young boy at the Woodstock city pool, and the boy told investigators that Blaul had fondled him on more than one occasion. He told police that the abuse started in September 2013.
As a result of that sentence, Blaul was required to register as a sex offender for life, meaning he was barred from certain activities, including dressing as Santa Claus, McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney Victor Escarcida said.
On Dec. 4, 2016, Blaul put on a Santa suit for a fundraiser at Animal House Shelter, where he worked, charging documents show.
In Illinois, child sex offenders cannot participate in holiday events involving children younger than 18.
“He was working in a place where you expect kids to be present,” Escarcida said in court. “Children love dogs, and they love Santa Claus.”
Blaul pleaded guilty to the felony charge Oct. 11.
Escarcida asked McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather to sentence Blaul to three years in prison, while Blaul’s defense attorney, Dan Hofmann, told Prather that if she gave his client probation, she would never see him in her courtroom on new charges.
Blaul is required to continue attending counseling as a condition of his sentence, which includes 60 days in the county jail. If Blaul does not commit another crime while he is out on probation, he likely won’t be required to serve any jail time, according to the sentencing order.
While higher management at Animal House Shelter knew about Blaul’s convictions, other employees might not have, Hofmann said.
According to the shelter’s website, Animal House hosts a “Pictures with Santa” fundraiser, and encourages people to bring their pets and entire families to take photos with Santa.
The shelter typically has someone who dresses as Santa for the event, but on this occasion, the weather was poor and he couldn’t make it, Hofmann said.
In the market for a new Santa, shelter workers turned to Blaul, he said.
“I was working for a shelter at the time. I was caught off guard when they asked me,” Blaul said.
Shelter representatives were not available to confirm whether they knew about Blaul’s status as a registered sex offender or comment on how long he worked for the organization.
Blaul formerly worked at Direct Counseling, one of several agencies that conduct alcohol, substance abuse and anger management evaluations for criminal defendants, but he was fired after his arrest.