A West Virginia sheriff was charged Monday with illegal wiretapping, accused of hacking his former wife’s work computer in the Clay County Magistrate Court office.
Clay County Sheriff Miles J. Slack was charged in a federal information filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston. The document typically signals the defendant is cooperating with the investigation.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Slack secretly installed a keystroke logger on a government-owned computer in April, when he and his wife were still married. Prosecutors wouldn’t immediately comment on the motive, but the couple has since divorced.
Goodwin said the machine that Slack’s wife worked on belongs to the state Supreme Court of Appeals and is connected to a statewide computer network. The spying device remained in place for two weeks, he said, and Slack successfully intercepted emails, messages and other data from the computer.
Slack didn’t immediately return a message left at his office, but County Commission President Mike Pierson said the sheriff has not resigned. Whether he will is unclear, but the commission is prepared to appoint a temporary successor within 24 hours of that decision, Pierson said.
“We knew it was probably coming,” he said. “We just didn’t know when.”
State law does not require a sheriff to resign while facing charges.
Last year, a sheriff in Jefferson County ran for and won re-election while facing criminal charges in the beating of a bank robbery suspect, so it could be some time before Slack is forced to resign.
“We really like Miles Slack. He has worked with the commission. He’s done a good job — much better than the previous sheriff,” Pierson said. “He just messed up, and he understands that. ... We hate to see this situation.”
Pierson declined to discuss the case further.
No hearing dates have been scheduled, but conviction could result in as many as five years in prison.
Spyware devices like the kind Slack is accused of using can be purchased online and typically are just 1-2 inches long and attached to the keyboard cable, Goodwin said. Once installed, they can intercept anything typed on that keyboard.
Goodwin says they are unobtrusive and normally hidden, so they can go undetected for long periods. And while the devices are small, some keystroke loggers can store as much as 2 gigabytes of data — or more than 1 billion keystrokes.
Slack was a deputy sheriff for 16 years. Last year, he was demoted from chief deputy to sergeant after announcing he was running for office.
Goodwin said then-Sheriff Randy Holcomb’s action threatened Slack’s election bid because state civil service laws say that only a chief deputy may run for sheriff — not any other deputies.
To stay in the race, Slack resigned and became chief of police for the town of Clay, the county seat.
He beat two other contenders in the Democratic primary in May 2012, winning the nomination with nearly 78 percent of the vote. He then ran unopposed in November.
Since taking office in January, Slack expanded evening patrols and sought funding for a new officer to monitor people serving home-confinement sentences in the county.