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The Santa Claus Man

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A Lesson in White-Collar Crime

Posted on December 22, 2015

I had a very enjoyable chat about The Santa Claus Man with Elliot Blair Smith, who's been covering business and financial malfeasance for Bloomberg, USA Today, and other outlets. For MarketWatch, we discussed what lessons The Santa Claus Man may provide for charities and would-be donors today.

Proving that human nature is all but impervious to progress, Gluck was very much a modern man, who would do well today in politics (he was a persuasive letter writer to U.S. presidents, who took him seriously) and at finance (he owned his own brokerage, at one time). From the heart of every self-promoting scheme, the Santa Claus Man followed this resonant strategy, Palmer writes:

“Draft a letter that touches a deep emotion, buttress it with a long list of impressive names and claims, send it far and wide using (a) growing list of donor names, and wait for the checks to roll in.”

What grasping public servant or money manager wouldn’t want a man like Gluck at the ready?

Never fear, Gluck—with his freshly waxed moustache, taste for high living, and lascivious taste for younger women — confronted his own scourges. They included the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving, which formed at about the same time as his Santa Claus Association did, promoting a decidedly anti-Christmas mantra; and New York City’s public welfare commissioner Bird Coler, who had no charity in his heart for Gluck’s scheme of taking from the rich, and giving to himself.

“To Coler,” Palmer writes, “the holiday season was not a time for sentimentality but for wariness. He looked out from his 10-floor office window and saw a Wild West in need of a sheriff.”

About the time Macy’s was throwing its first Christmas parades, the paths of Gluck and Coler were converging, and soon would collide. Of course, local authorities from the district attorney’s office to the U.S. Secret Service had investigated Gluck before, and never laid a glove upon him.

Coler’s shrewd financial acumen, and personal integrity, had ensured the successful integration of New York’s loose-limbed five boroughs into one city, back in 1898. But in perhaps the ultimate injustice, he was now out of political favor in Gotham City, and about to lose his job. Can you believe it?

Read the full story at MarketWatch.

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