NEWARK, N.J. - An actor who played Santa Claus and painted children's faces was arrested on child sex charges early yesterday after an international manhunt.
Wayne Nelson Corliss, 58, was arrested in his Union City apartment. He is suspected of sexually abusing at least three boys from Southeast Asia thought to have been 6 to 10 years old.
Corliss is charged with producing child pornography and could face 10 to 20 years in federal prison if convicted, federal prosecutors said.
Neighbors and colleagues who know Corliss, who acted under the stage name Casey Wayne, describe him as an amicable and witty man who showed no predisposition toward inappropriate behavior with children.
Judy Stone, a neighbor of Corliss, worked with him as an entertainer at corporate parties, art fairs and bar mitzvahs.
"He's the best Santa Claus anyone has ever seen," Stone said. "I've never seen him act in a way that was creepy or predatory toward children."
Raven Squire, the superintendent of the apartment building where Corliss has lived for more than two decades, said Corliss was very computer-savvy and had a cluttered apartment, but that he never saw anything inappropriate there.
"He was very knowledgeable about computers," he said. "He was a straightforward guy. There wasn't any pornography or sexually explicit stuff in there."
Corliss' arrest came two days after Interpol took the rare step of asking for the public's help. Two years of investigation had failed to determine the identity, whereabouts or even the nationality of a man shown engaged in sex with children in images associated with a Canadian child pornography investigation in 2005.
Investigators could discern from photos that showed the abuse and were seized in Norway in 2006 that the glasses-wearing, gray-haired white man did not seem to make any effort to conceal his identity - and that they appeared to be taken in Thailand.
Interpol's secretary general, Ronald Noble, said 460 leads flooded in within the first 24 hours after the agency launched its public appeal Tuesday.
In one of the e-mails, an informant wrote: "I think I know this man . . . He is a good man and I am shocked!" said Noble.
A database search and police investigations helped turn up a total of around 800 images, including nearly 100 of the man himself and others of his suspected victims or places where he is thought to have committed his alleged crimes, Interpol said.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which arrested Corliss, he traveled extensively in Asia, including making apparent trips to Thailand in 2000 and 2002.
"I've worked many children's parties with him. Whatever he did in Thailand, he did in Thailand," said Stone, the woman who has worked with him.