Busted at Tiffany's

Gila County sheriff's detective Tom Rasmussen is not pleased to receive my call.

"You're going to write about this and blow our cover totally up," he complains.

Yes, I am. Cover tends to disappear when you bust someone for Internet sex crimes, especially if that someone works in a state office building.

I had called Rasmussen to inquire about 27-year-old Keith Daniel Wilkins, a Phoenix man who was arrested November 27. Wilkins, who worked for a state contractor in computer support at the Department of Administration, thought he was en route to Globe to meet Tiffany, a 13-year-old girl he had been wooing on the Internet.

But Tiffany was really Rasmussen, a paunchy father of five and lifetime Globe resident.

"This was an Internet sting," Rasmussen says, and his alter-ego, Tiffany, had more potential vultures on the line. Publicity might scare them off.

I file a public records request to see the investigative materials. The next day, I go to Globe to talk with Rasmussen and retrieve the documents. Turn at the Circle K, drive down a pocked, undulating asphalt lane that dips through a wash. I find him in a windlowless office in a building adjacent to the Gila County Jail.

Resigned that his genie is out of the bottle, Rasmussen grows garrulous, perhaps flattered that someone is taking an interest in his work. His palaver reveals him as a man with a mission: to find and punish those who use the Internet to violate and exploit children.

"There are not many other crimes that will supercede child victimization and exploitation," he says.

That's true enough, but is it a significant threat in Globe, Arizona? Is it appropriate for a law enforcement agency with limited resources -- only four detectives -- to troll cyberspace and reel in (some might claim entrap) far-flung perverts?

"My job is to investigate and hopefully have pedophiles and child pornographers prosecuted. I could care less where they're from. There is a world outside Gila County."

Rasmussen sees no irony in the fact that his zeal has brought an unsavory character from the world outside Gila County into his bucolic community.

Keith Daniel Wilkins sits in a tiny room in orange jail garb. He is handcuffed. He wears fashionable glasses with tinted lenses. He speaks well enough, would seem to be of average intelligence, perhaps above average. His left arm is covered with tattoos, which he claims to have drawn himself. Whoever inked them is quite good.

Wilkins was raised by his grandparents. His parents divorced when he was 5, and both live out of state. He's had scrapes with the law before, "a variety of things." One of his friends jacked a car. "I was 18 and stupid," he says.

He's been working for a state contractor as a computer technician for about a year. He'd hoped to get hired directly by the state, but that aspiration has been dashed. Rasmussen has served a search warrant at the Department of Administration, and has seized Wilkins' work computer. The contractor has fired him.

Wilkins is married and has a young child, but he is hardly a traditional husband. In one Internet profile, he tells the world that he has "a nice thick 8-inch cock. Looking for couples and females to join me and my wife in some sexual adventures . . . and friendship."

On another Web page, he has posted a portrait of him, his attractive young wife and their handsome son. It would seem to be a picture of domestic bliss.

He calls his predicament "ridiculous." He claims he didn't know that Tiffany was 13, though he admitted to Rasmussen that he did review her profile, which clearly states her age. Wilkins tells me he was chatting with other women at the time he was communicating with Tiffany, and he mistook her for a woman of age.

"I figured she was 18, 19," Wilkins says.

He says he and Tiffany "talked about everything from going to the movies, to my wife and sexual things, but it's the same conversation I have with everybody that I talk to on the Internet. I mean, there's nothing wrong with talking about those things. I have with a lot of people and I've never been arrested for it."

Gila County alleges that Wilkins tried to act on "those things." Prosecutors have accused him of one count of second-degree attempted child molestation, one count of sexual exploitation of a minor under 15 and four counts of attempting to furnish obscene or harmful items to a minor. All are felonies. He originally was charged with nearly 100 counts and had his bail set at $2.85 million. When Gila County prosecutors winnowed down the charges, his bail was reduced to $200,000. He isn't sure when, or if, he'll be out of jail, where he is in lockdown 23 hours a day.

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Jeremy Voas