TAKING ACTION: Who is responsible for hiring mall Santas, Easter Bunnies

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TENNESSEE VALLEY, Ala. (WHNT) -- This time of year many families throughout the Tennessee Valley head to the mall to visit the Easter Bunny, but the outing may not be as innocent as you think.

Parents in Pennsylvania are demanding answers after learning that a registered sex offender worked as the Easter Bunny at a local mall, who outsourced the hire to Cherry Hill Photo.

WHNT News 19 learned that the same company is also responsible for the hiring of holiday icons at Parkway Place Mall, Madison Square Mall and Decatur Mall, which are all owned by CBL & Associates Properties, Inc. Calls to Regency Square Mall in Florence, which is owned by Hull Property Group, were not returned.

For more than a decade Cherry Hill Photo has hired those who don the Santa and Easter Bunny costumes in the North Alabama malls. WHNT News 19 took action and reached out to the company to find out if those same hiring issues in Pennsylvania trickled down to the Tennessee Valley.

The company provided this response, which is also the same response provided in regard to the Pennsylvania incident.

It has been determined that an individual portraying the Easter Bunny costumed character for 12 hours at the Mall had a prior criminal record. An employee of Cherry Hill Photo who does the local hiring of the Mall Easter Bunny staff violated strict company guidelines and permitted a person to portray the Easter Bunny at the mall without first sending in the appropriate information to the corporate office for approval.   This corporate approval of all new hires is required by Cherry Hill Photo in order to ascertain the suitability of an employee which includes a comprehensive background report. The person playing the Easter Bunny was immediately terminated and the  local manager who does the hiring was suspended pending the completion of our investigation. No incidents of any inappropriate behavior were reported and Cherry Hill is cooperating with authorities while conducting its own internal investigation. Cherry Hill Photo recognizes the importance of obtaining background checks and its stringent hiring guidelines have been in place for over 20 years.

A quick visit to Cherry Hill Photo's job application site shows that no where on the form does it ask for a criminal history.

Parkway Place and Madison Square Mall officials say there has never been an incident with any of the mall holiday promotion workers, but all of the hiring is out of their hands and solely at the discretion of Cherry Hill Photo. Officials were also unaware of the connection to the issue in Pennsylvania.

WHNT News 19 also reached out to CBL & Associates Properties, Inc. to find out if officials there would reconsider their relationship with Cherry Hill Photos. Those phone calls have yet to be returned.

Alabama State law requires sex offenders to register their place of employment with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. You can access that information here.