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Wife wire-tapping ex-Clay sheriff gets probation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After he was sentenced Thursday to federal probation for hacking her computer, the former Clay County sheriff and his ex-wife shared a long embrace.

About 20 of Miles Slack's family members and friends let out sighs of relief when a judge announced Slack's sentence of up to two years probation and a $1,000 fine.

"You have lost your position as sheriff, lost your career in law enforcement . . .  . That alone is enough," U.S. District Court Judge John Copenhaver told Slack.

 The charge to which Slack pleaded guilty -- one count of interception and disclosure of wire or oral communications -- carries a maximum of five years in prison. However, federal sentencing guidelines recommend zero to six months of prison time.

Slack resigned as sheriff before pleading guilty in September to hacking into his wife's work computer in order to obtain email passwords and chat room conversations.

His wife at the time, Lisa Slack, worked in the Clay County Magistrate Court office. The two have since divorced.

Computers in the offices of circuit judges and magistrates in West Virginia are owned and maintained by the West Virginia Supreme Court and are connected to a central Supreme Court computer network.

On Thursday, Lisa Slack made an emotional plea on behalf of her ex-husband in the courtroom, saying their 16-year marriage had been marred by jealousy. She, along with officials from the Supreme Court, had been invited to speak as victims.

"During the last couple of years, the jealousy grew," Lisa Slack said through tears.

When Miles Slack announced last year that he would run for sheriff, then-Sheriff Randy Holcomb demoted Slack from chief deputy. 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.

His resignation caused financial problems -- and also, Lisa Slack said, her husband then had "more time on his hands.

"I think the jealousy became a little more of an issue. I, too, I wasn't completely innocent. I've done things in our marriage I shouldn't have, as well," she said.

"He's a really good man; he made a mistake. Nothing he did was meant for the Supreme Court . . .  . He was totally after me."

In April, Slack installed a keystroke logger on his then-wife's work computer in magistrate court. Once installed, keystroke devices can intercept everything typed on a keyboard, including email and information transmitted to Internet sites.

Slack left the device in place for two weeks, until a technician discovered it.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby had asked the judge to sentence Slack at the top of the guidelines, to set an example for officials who break the public's trust. Ruby also noted the importance of maintaining confidential information on courthouse computers.

Slack "sought out the public's trust and had been granted that trust," Ruby said. The prosecutor also said that even if it wasn't Slack's intention to see privileged information, it was unavoidable.

Slack worked for the sheriff's department for about 16 years before he was elected sheriff. He took office in January.

He easily defeated two opponents in last year's Democratic primary, and ran unopposed in the general election. During his first months in office, he focused on expanding evening patrols and securing funding for a new home-confinement officer.

After reviewing 16 applications, Clay County commissioners on Sept. 25 appointed Home-Confinement Officer Garrett Samples to replace Slack.

Copenhaver said he received about 700 signatures on a petition asking for Slack to be granted leniency.

"The court recognizes you come here with a lifetime record that is good and wholesome," the judge said.

Bill Murray, Slack's attorney, described his client's activities as being emotionally charged and said the private information stored on the computer played no part in Slack's decision to hack the computer.

"I do realize the seriousness of my actions," Slack told Copenhaver. "If I could take them back I would. I really made a mistake. I'm very sorry that I did that, sir."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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