By Gus Garcia-Roberts and Sandra Peddie This project was reported and written by Gus Garcia-Roberts, Keith Herbert, Sandra Peddie and Will Van Sant with contributions from Aisha Al-Muslim, Matt Clark, Paul La Rocco, Maura Mc Dermott and Adam Playford. Shortly after noon on the near-freezing day of Feb.
24, 2014, real estate developer Gary Melius started his Mercedes-Benz in the valet parking lot behind Oheka Castle, the palatial Huntington hotel and event center he owns and calls home.
A masked man crept from a Jeep Cherokee parked nearby, put a pistol to the driver’s window and pulled the trigger, wounding Melius in the left forehead.
In his fragmented recollection, Melius heard a ringing in his ear and staggered to the castle, where he swiped himself in, put a wet towel to his head and asked his daughter to drive him to a hospital, later bragging that he “showed no fear.” His still-unsolved shooting was treated like the attempted assassination of a statesman.
Suffolk police officers assumed an imposing guard at the snow-specked castle while a roster of Long Island’s most influential officials at the time visited him at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.
The visitors included the two county executives, Suffolk’s Steve Bellone, a Democrat, and Edward Mangano, a Republican; Reps.
Peter King, a Republican, and Steve Israel, a Democrat; former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick; acting Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter; Nassau Sheriff Michael Sposato; Nassau’s top administrative judge, Thomas Adams; Suffolk Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan; and, overshadowing them all in wide-ranging influence, former Sen. The attempted murder in broad daylight of a developer with powerful connections, captured by surveillance footage on his castle grounds, briefly made national news. Gary Lewi, D’Amato’s former press secretary who has also represented Melius, compared the incident with “Robert Moses being gunned down in the parking lot of Jones Beach.” However overblown the link to the legendary master builder, Melius’ broad reach over Long Island politics, law enforcement and civic life has in many ways been unparalleled.
With a mix of canniness, unpolished charm and threats and taunts, Melius, now 73, has transformed himself from a teenage street tough out of West Hempstead to owner of the castle that became Long Island’s unofficial political clubhouse.
His networking has been prodigious, allowing Oheka to flower.
He has been the host at years of law enforcement parties at the castle, where, guests said, cops and FBI agents ate and drank for free.
His foundation has donated more than $2.8 million to roughly 500 mostly local charities.
In addition, Melius, his family, businesses and employees have contributed at least $1.3 million to politicians, several of whom were behind governmental actions worth millions to him.