Santa’s Land Denied Campsite Permit, Owner Faces Criminal Charges

Caution tape and a sign on the Santa's Land property in Putney.
Caution tape and a sign on the Santa's Land property in Putney. –Courtesy: Brattleboro Reformer

Hopefully the real Santa Claus isn’t watching the debacle unfolding in his name right now in Vermont.

Santa’s Land, a Christmas-themed park in Putney, Vermont, appears to be on the verge of permanent closure after being rocked by several crises.

On Thursday, park owner Lillian Billewicz, 56, was denied a permit for constructing a campsite at the park. According to the Brattleboro Reformer, Billewicz did not file complete application materials to the Putney Development Review Board.

The permit failure is the latest in a long string of troubles for the 42-acre theme park, which originally opened in 1957 and was purchased by Billewicz last spring. The park opened for the 2013 Christmas season, but Billewicz re-closed its doors soon after.


In March, Billewicz and the park’s animal caretaker Brian Deistler, 25, were charged with animal cruelty after an investigation by the Windham County Sherriff’s Department.

The search uncovered 16 dead deer, a dead pheasant, and a dead pot-bellied pig, as well as evidence of animal mistreatment, Cpl. Melissa Martin of the sheriff’s department told the Reformer.

“The seven goats I saw inside the barn had protruding ribs; there was a dead pheasant in one of the stalls, frozen solid; of the three donkeys, one particularly sounded as if it was in respiratory distress; the peacock had a bowl of frozen-sold water; the other animals did not have any water, and the bowls that were there appeared dry,’’ Martin wrote.

Both Billewicz and Deistler were arraigned on a misdemeanor count and ordered to follow an animal-care plan provided by a veterinarian.

Then, on July 11, Billewicz filed for bankruptcy, citing business-related debts.

Deistler is also facing heroin and theft charges, unrelated to the charges at Santa’s Land. The sheriff’s department launched the animal cruelty investigation when an officer grew suspicious after stopping by the park to return Diestler’s license plate, which had fallen off in a traffic accident.

Windham County Sherriff Keith Clark said to the Reformer, “Things just didn’t look right.’’

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