Clay County sheriff facing federal wiretapping charge
Clay County Sheriff Miles Slack faces a federal criminal charge after allegedly hacking his ex-wife's work computer in the county magistrate's office.
Authorities say Slack installed a keystroke logger on the woman's keyboard in late April. The computer, like all others in the offices of circuit judges and magistrates, is owned and maintained by the state Supreme Court and is connected to a central network.
He was charged with illegal wiretapping by way of information in U.S. District Court, according to a statement by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. Such a charge usually indicates the accused is cooperating with prosecutors.
He faces up to five years in federal prison if convicted.
Slack was not in his office Monday afternoon, a secretary said.
Keystroke loggers, which can be purchased from any number of Internet-based retailers, intercept and record everything typed on the keyboard.
They are small and may go unnoticed for some time. The device had been connected to the computer for about two weeks when Supreme Court technicians discovered it during a routine audit.
"We have routine auditing that goes on with every computer, every switch and every server all the time," said Steve Canterbury, Supreme Court administrator. "It's not just online, they also physically go to the computers and check them. It was Clay County's turn."
He said the timing was fortuitous as the device had been in place for only about two weeks. The computer was not compromised, he said. The device was only recording keystrokes, not planting a virus or mining for information. He said the information on the computer was of a public nature.
"His interests it seems were pure and simple; this was a domestic spying attempt," Canterbury said.
Canterbury said the technician brought the information to his boss, who then told him. They contacted the authorities. State Police and the FBI investigated.
Slack's ex-wife, referred to in court documents as "L.S.," released a statement about the charge Monday evening through attorney Dan Armstrong.
The couple divorced in May after 17 years of marriage. They have no children.
She also referred to herself as "L.S." in the statement, which said it was a "travesty that their marriage did not work out," but that she didn't wish any misfortune on her ex-husband.
She said she was relieved at Slack's apparent cooperation with authorities. She also wanted to remind the citizens of Clay County of the years Slack served them and that he is innocent until proven guilty.
"Miles is a good man who may have made a mistake," she said in the statement. "I am sure he is cooperating fully with authorities because that is the kind of man he has always been. I (sic) just glad we all may be able to get this incident behind us soon."
Slack served as a Clay County deputy for 16 years. Slack was chief deputy when he announced he was running for sheriff in 2012.
Then-Sheriff Randy Holcomb demoted him to the rank of sergeant, which threatened Slack's bid for office, the statement from Goodwin's office said. Only a chief deputy may run for public office; lower-ranking deputies are not permitted to do so, according to state civil service laws.
Slack resigned from the sheriff's department and took a job as Clay police chief. He ran in the 2012 election and handily defeated his two opponents for the Democratic nomination, receiving 78 percent. He ran unopposed in the election and took office on Jan. 1.
Clay County Commission President Mike Pierson was shocked to hear of the federal charge.
"I about fell into the floor," Pierson said of learning of the investigation. "I just could not believe it."
Pierson was attending a conference in Lewis County. While he had heard the prosecution was moving forward, he hadn't heard a charge had been filed.
"It's a sad thing for us," Pierson said. "He's easy to work with. He just messed up."
He thought the charge was too stiff and wished they had charged him with a misdemeanor.
Pierson, a former schoolteacher, has known Slack most of his life and always liked him. Slack was one of his students at Clay High School.
He said Slack was well liked among commissioners, especially after dealing with Holcomb. The former sheriff was hard to work with, Pierson said.
"It's a personal thing - we like Miles," Pierson said. "I think it's because we've gone through the Holcomb administration. Miles seemed more concerned about the welfare of the county.
"The commission had high hopes. We're hurting. We lost a lot of revenue when the coal mine shut down."
He said the regional jail bill runs $32,000 to $38,000 a month and among Slack's goals was to bring on a home confinement officer and expand nighttime patrols. He said one of the first things Slack did when he took office was to hire a home confinement officer.
Pierson said Slack has not resigned, but it was his understanding that Slack didn't have to do so until he made a plea in court.
"When he does resign, if and when, we will put somebody in his place out of his office," Pierson said, pointing out that payroll checks from the department still would need to be signed. "We have some people that are interested, but we haven't decided who it will be and won't make that decision until then."
The Legislature amended the law regarding appointments to elected positions this year and those changes went into effect last month. The commission will appoint someone immediately if Slack resigns.
They will then have 30 days from the time of resignation to select a new sheriff to serve out the rest of the unexpired term. The position will be up for a vote in the primary and general elections in May and November 2014.
Assistant U.S. attorneys Haley Bunn and Steve Ruby are handling prosecution.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4850.