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Phil Boyle hired top Conservative’s firm before run for sheriff

Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) in Albany, Jan.

Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) in Albany, Jan. 6, 2016. Credit: Hans Pennink

State Sen. Phil Boyle made payments totaling $5,000 to Suffolk Conservative Party Secretary Michael Torres’ new political consulting company last year a few months before Boyle announced his run for Suffolk County sheriff, campaign finance records show.

Boyle (R-Bay Shore) received the Conservative Party endorsement in March as the party passed over incumbent and Conservative Party member Sheriff Vincent DeMarco. Torres abstained from the vote, Newsday has reported.

Boyle said he hired Torres to help with social media and to prepare campaign literature last fall. “He’s a brilliant political operative,” Boyle said.

But Conservative committeeman Michael O’Donohoe, a former county legislator and commissioner of jurors who has been critical of the party’s leaders, questioned the payment from Boyle to Torres.

“A consultant shouldn’t be affiliated with any party,” O’Donohoe said. “It gives a strong impression of pay-to-play.”

Torres, a former Suffolk County Board of Elections official who for 2 1⁄2 years has been facing a felony charge of filing a false document with the Town of Islip, has emerged as a central player in Suffolk politics.

In recent months, Torres arranged candidate screenings for offices including Suffolk County sheriff, district attorney and county legislature and handles the party’s day-to-day business.

Torres also is a close ally of former Suffolk Conservative chairman Edward Walsh, who was a Suffolk sheriff’s lieutenant. Walsh was convicted last year of wire fraud and theft of government services for pocketing more than $200,000 in department salary and overtime while golfing, gambling and engaging in political activities. Walsh is scheduled to be sentenced June 20.

Torres was fired from the elections board in October 2015 in a dispute with Republican leaders after Conservatives made a cross-endorsement deal with Democrats for judicial elections. Among those who were cross-endorsed was Torres’ future father-in-law, Howard Heckman, now a state Supreme Court justice.

Boyle faced token opposition in his 2016 State Senate race. Democrat John Alberts, a Suffolk Board of Elections employee, raised and spent no money on his campaign, according to state election records.

Still, Boyle said in an interview, “I was running for re-election and needed to do something. It wasn’t going to be a major campaign but I wanted to raise the flag.”

Boyle said the payments to Torres’ company had nothing to do with his run for sheriff.

“I hired him in early September or August,” Boyle said of Torres. “At that time I was not thinking about running for sheriff.” He said he only began to think about that race in late December.

Boyle said he wouldn’t use Torres’ firm for his sheriff’s race. “I’m an ethics fanatic. I don’t even want an appearance of impropriety.”

Torres did not return calls for comment.

Public records show Torres registered Seatuck Strategic Consulting on Sept. 21 with the county clerk’s office. Boyle made one $2,500 payment to the company on Oct. 11, and another $2,500 payment on Dec. 8, campaign finance records show.

Seatuck Strategic Consulting’s only other client besides Boyle was the Islip Town Conservative Executive Committee, which paid the firm $5,000 in October. Islip Conservative chairman John Flynn didn’t return requests for comment.

Torres was arrested in November 2014 by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office for allegedly not disclosing two misdemeanor criminal convictions — one for promoting gambling in 1997, and the other for driving without a license in 2002 — when he applied to the Town of Islip’s Board of Assessment Review.

Torres was charged with offering a false instrument for filing, a class E felony that carries a maximum of 1 1⁄3 years to 4 years in state prison. He has pleaded not guilty, and is next scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 11.

Torres’ attorney, William Keahon, declined to comment.

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