The Times West Virginian

December 20, 2013

Former Clay County sheriff gets probation for wiretapping

By John Raby
Associated Press

CHARLESTON — A former West Virginia sheriff convicted of hacking his now ex-wife’s work computer was sentenced to probation Thursday after she made an emotional plea for leniency.

Former Clay County Sheriff Miles Slack exchanged a long hug with Lisa Slack, his friends, and relatives after U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver sentenced him to one to two years’ probation and fined him $1,000 for wiretapping.

“I am grateful to my family and friends,” Slack said afterward.

Copenhaver said he had to weigh a sentence that was both fair to everyone involved and showed respect for the law. He also noted letters and more than 700 petition signatures supporting the former sheriff.

Federal prosecutors say Slack secretly installed a keystroke logger on a computer in the county magistrate court in April where his wife worked. They were married at the time. Slack admitted he intended to monitor her activity.

Spyware devices can be purchased online and are attached to the keyboard cable. Once installed, they can intercept anything typed on that keyboard, including information in instant-messaging programs.  

The device was in place for more than two weeks, and Slack admitted it captured information about court business and the personal information of defendants in magistrate court. Computers in the offices of circuit judges and magistrates are owned and maintained by the state Supreme Court and are connected to a central computer network.  

Slack could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison. Federal prosecutors sought a lighter, unspecified sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby argued that Slack knew the computer was part of a judicial computer system and some of the information he obtained was confidential and highly sensitive.

But defense attorney Bill Murray said Slack had no criminal intent and simply “let his emotions in a time of divorce get the best of him.”

He said much of the information Slack had access to could be obtained through public computers.

Slack told the judge he realized the seriousness of his act.

“If I could take it back, I would,” he said. “I regret what I did very much. I regret trying to invade my wife’s privacy. I wasn’t after any confidential information.”

Lisa Slack, who said she was “very thankful” after the hearing, cried as she addressed the court and asked that her ex-husband receive probation.

She said jealousy had become an issue in the couple’s marriage and that she tried to save it through counseling but he didn’t want to attend the sessions.

“We just couldn’t work it out,” she said. “He’s a really good man. He made a mistake. He was after my personal stuff, not the court’s. He has been punished by the humiliation he had to face by this being public, by having to step down after getting the job he always wanted.”

Miles Slack ran unopposed for sheriff in November 2012 after easily defeating two other contenders in the Democratic primary.

Slack resigned in September shortly before pleading guilty. A temporary sheriff served for a month and the county commission selected Garrett Samples over 15 other applicants to take the permanent job on Oct. 1.

Slack’s case was the latest in federal court involving a sheriff in West Virginia.

Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins faces a federal lawsuit accusing him of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl when she was applying for a job at the county 911 center in 2011. Hawkins has denied wrongdoing. The lawsuit will be heard next September in federal court in Elkins.

Former Jefferson County Sheriff Robert Shirley was sentenced in May to a year in federal prison for his role in the 2010 beating of a bank robbery suspect after a high-speed chase. Shirley was re-elected last year while under indictment but resigned.

In Mingo County, the late Sheriff Eugene Crum was a key figure in a federal investigation that charged a former prosecutor and an ex-circuit judge in a scheme to keep Crum’s alleged drug supplier and campaign sign maker, George White, from talking to the FBI about the late sheriff.  Crum was killed in April in an unrelated shooting.

White’s guilty plea on drug charges was tossed last week and a Mingo County judge said a hearing would be set to arraign White again.

Former prosecutor Michael Sparks and ex-circuit judge Michael Thornsbury are scheduled to be sentenced next year. Sparks has pleaded guilty to depriving White of his constitutional rights and Thornsbury has pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive White of his rights.