Hardball politics?

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - In late November, a half-dozen protesters stood outside then-state attorney Michael McAuliffe's office.

McAuliffe had just agreed to a plea deal with mass-murderer Paul Merhige, sparing Merhige the prospect of the death penalty.

But who were those protesters?

Did they really think McAuliffe was weak on crime?

The protest happened as Dave Aronberg was considering a run for state attorney, McAuliffe's job.

After months of digging, two Palm Beach Post reporters, Joel Engelhardt and Adam Playford, say they discovered that the protest was pushed for by Aronberg himself.

They say it was done behind the scenes, through an ally who had an axe to grind with McAuliffe. They identified that ally as millionaire Marty O'Boyle.

O'Boyle provided hundreds of e-mails to the Post -- e-mails he later distanced himself from - saying the Post seemed to have an agenda.  

O'Boyle was angry over his daughter's DUI conviction and spoke to NewsChannel 5 over Skype on Monday.

Reporter: Did he ask you to fabricate a protest of Michael McAuliffe?

O'Boyle: "Yes he did. Twice."

The Post says O'Boyle's assistant hired the protesters from a Coconut Creek party planning company called Kids Fairyland on two occasions.

The contract says they were to participate in a "rally protest."

Actors to play the role of political guns.

"The story said in the first paragraph that the two of us paid for actors. That's absolutely false," said Aronberg.

Aronberg says he is a target of what he called, "over the top" reporting by the Palm Beach Post and that O'Boyle is now supporting one of Aronberg's opponents for state attorney, Robert Gershman.

Aronberg says he waged a legitimate campaign against McAuliffe, with ads like one taken out in the Jewish Journal.

"This is a dishonest political attack by my opponent using his top client and top supporter to try to put out gross exaggerations in a way to help his campaign discredit me. At the end of the day, we will overcome this, we will rise above it," said Aronberg.
 
Aronberg says he is proud that he shed light on what he called a poorly run state attorney's office under McAuliffe and that he has a clean ethics record.

"McAuliffe had the worst-performing state attorney's office."

But the Post reporters stand by their story.

"Even the state attorney who was under attack, did not know where they were coming from," said Engelhardt.


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