A 23-year-old former Republican candidate for the 24th Senate District in Billings made an initial court appearance Monday on a charge that he solicited sex from a 15-year-old girl.
Keith Michael Winkler appeared in Yellowstone County Justice Court on charges of solicitation of sexual intercourse without consent, tampering with witnesses and informants, and solicitation of tampering with witnesses or informants.
The second and third charges allege he told the girl to withhold information about the solicitations and that he encouraged his wife to try to keep police from investigating the matter.
The Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office arrested Winkler on Friday on a $50,000 warrant.
Winkler ran as a Republican for state Senate District 24 in Billings earlier this year. In June he was defeated and garnered the least votes of any candidates running for the position, election records show.
Charging documents state that on May 1, the alleged victim’s mother reported that Winkler had sent text messages of a sexual nature to her daughter.
On May 6, an investigator interviewed the alleged victim, who said that Winkler sent her a Facebook message asking for her phone number, court records say. She told the investigator she thought Winkler asked for the phone number so he could ask her to babysit his children.
“She stated very quickly he began text messaging her on her phone,” court records say. “She stated it got creepy.”
The girl reported that Winkler said he wanted to have sex with her and that the messages made her uncomfortable.
On May 13, a sheriff’s detective contacted Winkler at his home. Winkler said he needed to talk to an attorney before speaking with the detective.
After obtaining a search warrant for Winkler’s phone records, investigators recovered text messages he sent to the alleged victim.
Excerpts of those sexually explicit messages are quoted in charging documents.
In a text conversation referenced by prosecutors, Winkler asks the girl to have sex with him.
“He proceeds to arrange a time for him to come over to her residence, presumably to engage in sexual conduct,” a prosecutor’s affidavit states.
When the girl made excuses for not being available, Winkler replied by suggesting that he visit her over his lunch break the following Monday and then asks her to keep her “mind open” about having sex with him, court records say.
According to prosecutors, he also asked the girl to delete the messages in their conversations and told her not to discuss the matter with anyone.
“ … if anyone finds out dude ill (sic) go to jail,” he is quoted as telling the girl.
About 40 minutes after the conversation with the alleged victim ended, Winkler and his wife started texting each other, court records say.
In their conversation, he denies texting the girl and goes on to ask his wife to convince the alleged victim’s mother not to go to the police.
In one text message to his wife, Winkler is quoted as saying, “Well hopefully she won’t do anything cuz her being selfish would f—- us completely and I was just gonna call the Secretary of State in Montana and withdraw from my campaign Over this.”
Justice of the Peace David A. Carter set Winkler’s bond at $40,000 on Monday and ordered him to comply with GPS monitoring if bail is posted.
The judge also ordered Winkler not to have any contact with the alleged victim or any other witnesses in the case.
Winkler is scheduled to enter pleas to the charges in District Court on Sept. 2.