Congressman-Elect Kerry Bentivolio Sued Me For Calling Him a 'Deadbeat Santa'

By Mike Betzold

Imgres 2Twenty years after being declared persona non Santa by the White House, Kerry Bentivolio is finally going to Washington, thanks to voters of the very Republican 11th Congressional District in parts of western Wayne and Oakland counties.

Self-styled “Old Fashion Santa” Bentivolio, who just won an election for a permanent seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, was such a Bad Santa back in the early 1990s that he was banned by George H.W. Bush’s elves -- and then he sued me and the Free Press, where I was working as a reporter.

It all started when I wrote a story on a slow news day: local man invited to play Santa at the Bush White House Christmas tree lighting party. 

The next morning, calls came in to the Freep from Milford-area Scrooges, claiming Bentivolio had cheated them in various dealings related to his failed home-building venture. A search of court records backed up their complaints. One creditor was so incensed that she called the White House, told her story to Bush administration officials, and got Bentivolio disinvited. So I wrote a follow-up item about Milford’s disgraced “Deadbeat Santa.”

A year minus a day later, Santa sued us for defamation. 

The paper’s attorney, the inimitable Herschel Fink, had a jolly old time writing a tongue-in-cheek answer to his complaint. I was deposed, and Bentivolio’s attorney grilled me, at one point asking: “Mr. Betzold, do you believe in Santa?”

I mumbled a reply stating that I believed in the spirit represented by Mr. Claus, if not its current embodiment in Milford. 

Herschel, having gotten a good laugh, decided it would be cheaper to give Bentivolio a few bucks in a settlement rather than waste more time on frivolity. So Bentivolio got some milk-and-cookies money. And I can say, if I’ve accomplished nothing else in my journalism career, at least I’ve been sued by Santa Claus.

Thanks to incumbent Thaddeus McCotter’s strange dances with some fraudulent nominating petitions earlier this year, Deadbeat Santa is now at last going to ride the reindeer he raises over Capitol Hill. 

Mike Betzold is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor.

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