(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
The Internet has been responsible for many wonderful things, but almost from its creation, there has been a seamy, sordid side - the perverts who cruise cyberspace looking for underage victims.
Former Diamond Police Chief Jim Murray brought several of these men to justice over the past few years and his work will continue in the future, despite his recent retirement.
After his tenure as chief, Murray continued to work for the Diamond Police Department, spending most of his time establishing a new police beat. Every person who has been caught in one of Murray’s internet stings has either pleaded guilty or has been found guilty.
That number includes former Collins Mayor Allen Kauffman , a minister, who pleaded guilty Dec. 1 in Newton County Circuit Court to sexual misconduct or attempt involving a child under 15. Hopefully, Kauffman will have the book thrown at him when his sentencing takes place, though his lawyer, Dee Wampler, is fighting to have his client placed on probation, saying Kauffman feels remorse over what he has done and will never break the law again.
Wampler worked his magic on Kauffman’s behalf last year, convincing Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Richardson to give Kauffman a slap on the wrist.
Kauffman pleaded guilty and was given a suspended sentence almost before the process in his case had even started. Cole County Circuit Court records indicate Kauffman was bound over for trial and then pleaded guilty on July 21, the date of his arraignment, a speed almost unheard of in Missouri courts.
And who could blame Kauffman for jumping quickly at the sweetheart deal offered by Richardson? Kauffman, facing a charge of sexual misconduct involving a child younger than 14, received a suspended sentence, was placed on supervised probation for five years, must complete 100 hours of community service, and have "no internet use." He has also been required to register as a sex offender. Kauffman was also caught in a sting as he tried to arrange sex with an underaged girl.
Richardson's plea arrangement with Kauffman might be understandable if this offense was an isolated incident, but according to circuit court records, it took Richardson more than a year to file charges against Kauffman. The crime Kauffman committed occurred March 21, 2007, according to court records. It took nearly a year and two months, until May 14, 2008, for Richardson to file charges.
What makes this omission even more glaring is that it allowed Kauffman to continue to attempt to lure underage girls for sex, according to the charges filed against him in Newton County. The local crimes took place Nov. 16, Dec 11, and Dec. 12, 2007. It took less than a month after the Dec. 12 date for former Newton County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Watson to file charges against Kauffman. Despite these felony charges in Newton County, it took another four months for Cole County Prosecutor Richardson to get around to filing charges against Kauffman.
Kauffman’s sentence is likely to be the last for one of Jim Murray’s internet sting arrests. For the protection of the public, it would be nice if Allen Kauffman is behind bars following his sentencing hearing. I fully expect Newton County will not follow the example of Cole County since our local prosecutors have been fighting for prison time for Kauffman since day one.
As for others who might be tempted to prowl the dark side of the internet now that Jim Murray is no longer standing guard, they had better think twice.
Over the past few years, Murray has trained police officers across the state so that our youth can be protected, and in articles about his retirement, Murray indicated he will continue to offer this type of training.
Here’s hoping that Jim Murray will enjoy his retirement and can continue to take pride as the officers he trained keep cyberspace safe.