Gary Melius, 69, the owner of the plush Oheka Castle estate in Huntington, New York, was shot by a masked gunman in the hotel's parking lot today, reports Long Island News 12. Melius lives inside the castle with his wife, Pam.
Here's what you need to know:
1. It's Been Called a 'Botched Hit'
He is believed to be in stable condition after being shot in the face. According to The New York Post, he was hit as he walked from the main house of his state to his car. The Post also says that "law enforcement sources speculated it was a botched hit."
A quick update - Gary Melius is alert, and joking around - toughest man I know. Love you brother!
— Frank MacKay (@Frank_MacKay) February 24, 2014
News 12 has reported that he was taken to nearby hospital by employees of the hotel. From there, EMT's transferred him to another medical center, an eye surgeon was called to consult. Cops are said to be looking for a grey Jeep Cherokee in relation to the shooting and are hopeful that the estate's surveillance system may have caught the gunman on camera.
Suffolk PD: No motive, no suspects identified in shooting of Gary Melius. "It does not appear to be an accidental shooting."
— Mike Balsamo (@MikeBalsamo1) February 24, 2014
Police checkpoints have been set up around the castle, as police search for leads.
2. His Political Influence is Famous Throughout Long Island
Melius was last in the headlines in October 2013 when he attracted controversy over his support for Andrew Hardwick. Hardwick, the former mayor of Freeport, Long Island, was running for the Nassau County executive as a third party candidate. Melius was criticized for supporting Hardwick with commentators suggesting the developer was only doing it to take votes from democrat Tom Suozzi, who lost to republican incumbent, and Melius associate, Ed Mangano. Long Island newspaper, Newsday, said in 2013, that Melius "has spent years building a near-peerless network of political contacts."
Another allegation, from the NYPD Confidential blog, suggests that Nassau County Police Commissioner, Thomas Dale, arrested an enemy of Melius and Mangano's, Randy White, 29, on a misdemeanor charge. White, a campaign worker for Hardwick, testified before a grand jury the day before his arrest saying that he was being paid per-petition signature he generated, something that's illegal under election law, reports News 12. White's arrest came when three cops raided the express bus that he [White] was riding on and stemmed from a previous unpaid fine that related to bootleg DVD sales. The 29-year-old is suing the Nassau police in relation to the arrest.
According to The New York Post, both Melius and Hardwick believed that White had committed perjury. Nassau DA Kathleen Rice probed the charges, and found that Commissioner Thomas Dale had ordered the arrest at the behest of Melius. This led to Dale's resignation. When questioned about it, Gary Melius, said that arresting White for the unpaid fine was no different to police arresting Charles Manson on a parking ticket charge in 1969, given that Melius believes White committed perjury before the grand jury.
District Attorney Rice's relationship with Melius has also been questioned, as someone in her office who investigated Melius, had his daughter's wedding at Oheka.
The NYPD Confidential blog describes Melius as someone with "longtime ties to the NYPD" and alleges that law enforcement eat and drink at reduced rates at the Oheka Castle.
In October 2013, Melius released an open letter defending himself from the allegations of wrongdoing:
I have been asked by your station to respond to an accusation that I am supporting Andrew Hardwick only to draw minority votes from Tom Suozzi. Here is my answer:
Let me start by saying that I am friends with Andrew Hardwick, Ed Mangano, and that I play cards weekly with Steve Schlessinger and Al D’Amato. I am very friendly with Congressmen Steve Israel and Peter King. I have always given financial support to both parties, in some years more to one than the other.
My reason for supporting Andrew Hardwick is that he asked me as his friend to help him run. He wanted to have his voice heard on his ideals and what he feels was a racial assault on him by Tom Suozzi and Jay Jacobs, when they came to Freeport during his recent Mayoral campaign, and openly supported a white Republican against the first Democratic African American Mayor of Freeport.
In August 2013, Republican party activist and singer/actor, Robert Davi, performed at the estate:
3. His Oheka Estate is One of the Largest Estates in the U.S.
Melius bought Oheka Castle in 1984, with a view to restoring the property, which was used in the movie Citizen Kane, but had fallen into disrepair. The renovations became the largest private residential renovation project in U.S. history.
In 1988, after undergoing financial difficulty, Melius was forced to sell the project to a Japanese developer. Then, following the Japanese company's financial difficulty, Melius reacquired the estate in the '90s. After this, Melius began operating the estate as a hotel and wedding venue.
The New York Times reports that Melius was born in Jackson Heights, Queens. He began his working life as a plumber, but moved into construction, and eventually into real estate developing where he made his fortune. Former U.S. Senator Al D'Amato's press secretary, speaking to The New York Times,
What Gary Melius created at Oheka Castle is a classic God Coast environment for virtually every boldface name who walks on Long Island. People from all sides of the political spectrum have gone through the doors to either share a meal, smoke a cigar, play a game of poker and leave their differences outside.
4. In Recent Years, He's Had Financial Trouble
Friends, thank you for your kind words. Please keep my dear friend Gary Melius in your prayers.
— Al D'Amato (@AlDAmatoNY) February 24, 2014
In 2012, Melius fell into more financial trouble and was forced to refinance his mortgage of $27.9 million, though he told The Wall Street Journal at the time that business at Oheka was "steady."
5. His Daughter & Wife Work at the Hotel
— Dottie Herman (@DottieHerman) October 12, 2011
Many of the Melius family work at Oheka, his daughter, Kelly, is the director of catering sales, and her husband is the estate's banquet manager. The couple were married at Oheka in 2008. His wife, Pamela, is listed, with her husband, as one of the owners of the Oheka Management Corporation. Another of his daughters, Nancy, a former Broadway dancer, works as the hotel's marketing director.