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Paul Costello dies; Suffolk attorney with lengthy record of public service was 68

Paul Costello, who was a member of the

Paul Costello, who was a member of the board of directors of Suffolk OTB, stands in front of the OTB parlor in Hauppauge in this undated photo. Credit: NEWSDAY / Don Jacobsen

Paul Costello, a Republican attorney who had a 30-year public career where he was involved in high-profile issues ranging from the Katie Beers kidnapping case to the ouster of former Suffolk OTB president Walter Conlon, has died. He was 68.

Costello died Monday of a heart attack as he was undergoing a heart catheterization operation at St. Catherine of Siena Hospital in Smithtown.

At the time of his death, Costello was law clerk to acting State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Martin, but during his career he served as an assistant district attorney, inspector general of the Suffolk Department of Social Services, head of the county attorney's family court bureau and a board member of Suffolk Off-Track Betting Corp. He also made an unsuccessful run for Congress in 1982 against Democratic Rep. Tom Downey.

"Paul had an extraordinary intellect," said Jerry Dandeneau, a fellow Smithtown lawyer and close friend. "He was a lawyer's lawyer."

Others described him as someone who should have been a judge.

"He had the scholarship and the temperament," said Robert Bennett, former clerk for the Suffolk Supreme Court who knew Costello from childhood. "But he made real enemies with Conlon's ouster, and some of the powers that be have long memories."

Costello, as a Suffolk OTB board member, was a leading force in the 2000 removal of Conlon, a longtime GOP adviser. Conlon came under fire for spending on lavish parties, putting friends and family on the payroll and setting up an in-house security force that employed his son.

Six month after Conlon's removal, Republicans on the county legislature successfully pushed to replace Costello on the board.

Earlier, Costello also bucked his hometown Smithtown GOP organization by supporting Robert Gaffney for county executive in the 1991 Republican primary against Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio.

As head of the county family court bureau, Costello was also the county's lead attorney in the case to protect the rights and privacy Katie Beers, who at age 10 was kidnapped and held prisoner in an underground dungeon for 17 days in the early '90s.

Born in New Hyde Park, Costello was a star high school quarterback and won a full scholarship to Union College near Albany, where he graduated in 1964, majoring in geology. Three years later he graduated from University of Wyoming Law School. After graduation, he worked as an intern for the Suffolk district attorney's office until has passed the bar exam and became a county prosecutor.

Costello was married once but had been divorced for more than 30 years at the time of his death.

Survivors include his daughter, Meaghan, of Long Beach, his brother, Tom, of Hampton Bays, and a sister, Lynne Healy, of Tucson, Arizona.

"He was very charming, witty and highly articulate," said Jane Conway, a longtime friend and former Smithtown Town Board member. "He was very well read, a student of history and politics, and a great conversationalist. He could run the gamut, quoting from poets to soldiers."

A wake is scheduled from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Monday at Chapey & Sons Funeral Home in East Islip. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. Tuesday at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Huntington. A cremation is planned.

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