Home Pittsburgh Press Releases 2013 Ex-Clay County Sheriff Pleads Guilty to Federal Wiretapping Charge

Ex-Clay County Sheriff Pleads Guilty to Federal Wiretapping Charge
Former Sheriff Miles Slack Secretly Intercepted Communications from Ex-Wife’s Supreme Court Computer

U.S. Attorney’s Office September 17, 2013
  • Southern District of West Virginia (304) 345-2200

CHARLESTON, WV—Former Clay County Sheriff Miles J. Slack pleaded guilty today to illegal wiretapping, a federal felony, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced. Appearing today in federal district court, Mr. Slack, who resigned as sheriff last Friday as part of his plea agreement with Goodwin, admitted to surreptitiously installing a keystroke logger on a computer belonging to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

The compromised computer was a government computer assigned to Mr. Slack’s then-wife, Lisa Slack, who works in the office of a Clay County magistrate. Computers in the offices of circuit judges and magistrates throughout West Virginia are owned and maintained by the state’s Supreme Court and are connected to a central Supreme Court computer network.

Mr. and Ms. Slack were in the midst of a divorce when he illegally tapped her computer. Mr. Slack admitted that he intended to monitor his ex-wife’s activity on the computer, including messages she sent through Internet chat and e-mail programs. He said he also wanted to capture his ex-wife’s usernames and passwords for various Internet services. Mr. Slack acknowledged that the wiretap device he installed captured everything that was typed on his ex-wife’s computer, including information about court business and the personal information of defendants in Clay County magistrate court.

Mr. Slack installed the hidden device in late April of this year, and it remained in place for over two weeks.

“It’s a shame that Clay County’s chief law enforcement officer chose to illegally tap a government computer,” said U.S. Attorney Goodwin. “Our elected officials and law enforcement officers have to respect the law like everyone else. If they don’t, there are consequences.”

“These days, it seems like every detail of our lives is being bounced around the world on computer networks,” Goodwin continued. “Imagine learning that someone was secretly monitoring everything you did on your own computer, without any legal authority. It’s a very serious breach of privacy. That’s why the laws against wiretapping are so important.”

Keystroke logging devices can be purchased from a number of Internet-based sellers. The devices, usually one to two inches long, are attached to a computer’s keyboard cable. Once installed, they can intercept everything typed on the keyboard, including e-mail and information transmitted to Internet sites.

Because the devices are unobtrusive and normally hidden behind the computer targeted for surveillance, they can go undetected for long periods of time. Though small in size, some keystroke loggers can store two gigabytes of information, enough to record more than a billion keystrokes.

Slack served as a Clay County deputy sheriff for around 16 years. In early 2012, while acting as chief deputy for the Clay County Sheriff’s Department, Slack announced he was running for sheriff. Then-Sheriff Randy Holcomb, however, quickly demoted Slack to the rank of sergeant, a move that threatened Slack’s election bid. Under West Virginia civil service laws, deputy sheriffs other than the chief deputy may not run for public office. In order to remain in the race, Slack resigned from the department and became Chief of Police for Clay, West Virginia, the county seat of Clay County.

In the May 2012 primary election, Slack soundly defeated two other candidates for the Democratic nomination for sheriff, receiving nearly 78 percent of the vote. He ran unopposed in the November 2012 general election and took office January 1, 2013. Slack’s first projects as sheriff included expanding evening patrols and seeking funding for a new home confinement officer.

The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the West Virginia State Police, with assistance from the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. The prosecution is being led by Counsel to the United States Attorney Steven Ruby.

Slack faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced on December 19, 2013, by United States District Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr.

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