MASTER SMUGGLER SANTA CLAUS ARRESTED DETROIT, MI -- Notorious international smuggler Santa Claus was taken into custody near Detroit yesterday by agents of the U.S. Customs Service. Claus was at a suburban Detroit mall at the time of his arrest. Authorities believe he was on a scouting mission in advance of illegally bringing a massive shipment of goods into the country later this month. Customs agents, aided by an FBI SWAT team, also arrested two of Claus' assistants, and seized several reindeer and the smuggler's vehicle, a sleigh, that had been on the roof of the mall. Long a target of Customs officials, Claus has cleverly eluded capture in the past, even while conducting bold annual visits to this country, in which he ignores Customs regulations and dumps massive quantities of foreign-made goods, mostly plastic toys manufactured in China. In Washington, Customs Commissioner Raymond Kelly did little to conceal his relief at the arrest of Claus. "This guy has been a thorn in the side of Customs forever," said Kelly. "Every year, he would tell us when he was coming, tell us what he would be bringing, and tell us who he was going to deliver it to, but we still couldn't nab him," he continued. Having achieved a kind of folk-hero status among many Americans, Santa Claus' capture was always made more difficult by a lack of cooperation from the public in official attempts to apprehend him. The rotund gangster, ironically nicknamed "Saint" Nick, has long been celebrated in song and lore. Cleverly associating himself with the annual Christmas holiday, Claus has doled out enough free gifts to keep most of the general populace on his side. "He bribed the public, in effect," explained Kelly, "with his free toys, clothing, and gadgets of all kinds," he continued. "All over the country, guys would dress up like him in the weeks prior to his delivery run, letting him freely move among us undetected, plotting his strategy." The breakthrough in the case came when the Customs department was able to successfully infiltrate an agent, disguised as an elf, into Claus' base at the North Pole. The agent was able to notify officials in advance of the smuggler's visit to the shopping mall where he was finally arrested. Claus was brought before a federal judge in Detroit today for arraignment. He is being charged with 13 crimes, including bypassing customs inspection, and failing to pay applicable tariffs or file proper documentation on his imported goods. He seemed solemn and subdued as he was taken into court. His only remark overheard by reporters was made when he saw the agent who had infiltrated his operation. "Oh my, you've been very naughty," said the crimson-clad Claus. Authorities have still apparently been unable to discover how Claus is profiting from his runs into this country, but they believe there must be other activities he engages in, such as drug running or money laundering, under cover of his gift-giving. "Hey, they got Al Capone on tax evasion," said Commissioner Kelly. "If we can put Santa Claus behind bars for failing to have a passport, that still leaves him unable to carry out whatever dastardly deeds we don't know about, or can't prove yet." Claus' troubles will not end with the charges being brought against him by the Customs Service. Justice Department officials have expressed an interest in charging him with anti-competitive market practices, and with violations of the Civil Rights Act for discriminating against non-Christians. Then there are several multi-million dollar class-action civil suits that lawyers say will probably be brought by homeowners trying to collect for damage to their roofs, caused by Claus' reindeer and sleigh. Several European countries are also expressing an interest in an opportunity to put the smuggling kingpin on trial for similar crimes. "I don't think we'll be hearing 'Ho, Ho, Ho' from this guy for a very long time," said Kelly, laying his finger aside of his nose.