London, July 11 : It seems that Father Christmases in the U.S. are not keeping up with their 'good souls' tag, for the country's Santas have been accused of profiteering, unethical behaviour and even Claus-on-Claus violence.
Rival Santa Claus leaders have been engaged in a decidedly unfestive power struggle that has polarised the lucrative US grotto market and forced hundreds of Father Christmases to choose between warring rival groups.
The fight has gone so wide that it has extended on to the internet, in this case Elf Net, an online chat group where Santas go to exchange information on belt supplies and beard dyeing.
Organizers of the annual convention in Kansas of the Amalgamated Order of Real-Bearded Santas, fear it will be disrupted by splitters from rival groups such as the Fraternal Order and the Red Suit Society.
The whole mess started last year with a row on the board of the Amalgamated Santas, a 700-member group which was set up in 1994 by 10 Santas doing a television commercial in Hollywood.
Tim Connaghan, the organisation's chief, was forced out after a rival board member, Nick Trolli, accused him of unethical behaviour by acting as a booking agent for 200 members hired for Christmas events and taking a 25,000 dollars consultancy free from a film company.
Trolli took over but he also proved controversial, expelling some 20 members for offences that included maligning fellow Santas on Elf Net.
In January, one of the banned members tried to gatecrash an Amalgamated Santas board meeting in California.
Before he was escorted out by security guards, he claimed the Elf Net's 6'4 tall administrator "used his elbow to bounce me off the wall" while Trolli said the interloper charged into him "like a linebacker".
The fracas prompted another ousted board member, Tom Hartsfield, to shut down the group's website in protest.
"They threatened me with the FBI, and called me a thief and a terrorist," the Telegraph quoted him, as telling the Wall Street Journal.
Other Santas have complained to the Kentucky attorney's office about financial irregularities within Amalgamated Santas, whose income largely comes from its 20 dollars a year membership fee.
Kentucky prosecutors forwarded the claims to the Charitable Organisations Bureau in Pennsylvania, where the Santas group is based.
This week, Amalgamated Santas was handed a cease and desist order, based on charges that included solicited unregistered charitable contributions.
Trolli said his group was setting up a fund to help needy Santas but has agreed to cooperate.