Clay County Sheriff Miles J. "Mike" Slack was charged Monday in federal court with illegal wiretapping.
In April, Slack installed a keystroke logger on the work computer of his ex-wife, who works in the Clay County Magistrate Court's office, according to U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.
Once installed, keystroke devices can intercept everything typed on a keyboard, including email and information transmitted to Internet sites, according to a news release issued by Goodwin. Slack allegedly left the device in place for two weeks.
"Because the devices are unobtrusive and normally hidden behind the computer targeted for surveillance, they can go undetected for long periods of time," a news release from Goodwin's office stated. "Though small in size, some keystroke loggers can store two gigabytes of information, enough to record more than a billion keystrokes."
Slack was charged by information, which usually means a defendant is cooperating with an investigation. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.
It was not immediately clear if Slack would remain as sheriff. He could not be reached for comment Monday.
Slack's ex-wife, identified in a statement only as "L.S.," asked Monday evening that people remember that her ex-husband is innocent until proven guilty. Her attorney, Daniel K. Armstrong of Gassaway, released the statement.
"Ms. Slack continues to believe 'Miles is a good man who may have made a mistake.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,'" the statement said.
Clay County Commission President Mike Pierson said Monday that Slack had not resigned, but commissioners "assume" that he will. State law doesn't require a sheriff to step down while facing charges.
Pierson said an emergency meeting would be called within 24 hours to appoint a replacement if Slack did step down.
Commissioners had talked to Slack about the accusation and were expecting the charges, Pierson said.
Slack was one of Pierson's students at Clay County High School, and Pierson said he had enjoyed working with Slack.
"We just didn't know when it was all going to happen," Pierson said. "We hate to see him go. He was very good to work with, he just messed up.
"We assume that he will [resign]. It looks like it but we don't know for sure."
On May 3, a divorce order was finalized between Slack and his ex-wife, according to the Clay County circuit clerk's office.
Computers in the offices of circuit judges and magistrates in West Virginia are owned and maintained by the state Supreme Court and are connected to a central Supreme Court computer network.
Steve Canterbury, Supreme Court administrator, said the sheriff allegedly planted the device for personal reasons, not to gain access to private court documents. The device was discovered on a computer during a routine audit, he said.
"We have thoroughly examined everything that was likely to have been copied by the device that he put onto the computer and there was nothing that wasn't public information," Canterbury said.
"I'm also of the mind to believe that he was so riled up in whatever domestic issue that he was clearly being myopic about, that I doubt it if he could have seen anything except that stuff that could've pertained to his own domestic situation."
Slack worked for the sheriff's department for about 16 years before he was elected sheriff. When he announced last year that he would run, then-Sheriff Randy Holcomb demoted Slack from chief deputy, according to the news release.
West Virginia civil service laws don't permit any deputies except chief deputies to run for sheriff, so Slack resigned from the sheriff's department and worked briefly as police chief for the town of Clay.
Slack easily defeated two opponents in last year's Democratic primary, and ran unopposed in November's general election. During his first months in office, he has focused on expanding evening patrols and securing funding for a new home confinement officer.
The FBI and the State Police are investigating the case with assistance from the Supreme Court.
The Slacks divorced in May after 17 years of marriage. They have no children together.
"While it was a travesty that their marriage did not work out, she does not wish any misfortune upon Mr. Slack," the statement from Armstrong said. "L.S. requests that her privacy be respected and that she be referred to as L.S. at this time."
Reach Kate White at kate.wh...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.