Group seeks inquiry into whether Melius broke lobbying laws

Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius attends the funeral Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius attends the funeral Mass for Antoinette D'Amato, mother of former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Island Park on Monday April 28, 2014. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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ALBANY -- A watchdog group has asked the state ethics commission to investigate whether lobbying laws were broken when a Suffolk County company hired politically connected developer Gary Melius to help get ignition interlock legislation enacted.

Melius said he's acted "totally within the law."

The New York Public Interest Research Group filed a complaint last week asking the ethics commission to look at "potential violations," including Melius' "failure to register as a lobbyist" and a contract that guaranteed Melius shares in Interceptor Ignition Interlocks Inc., of Shirley, if certain laws were passed. Such pay-for-success contracts are illegal under state lobbying laws.

"We believe this matter raises important issues about the interpretation of the state's lobbying laws and compliance with the law and urge the commission to undertake forthwith an investigation," Blair Horner, NYPIRG's legislative director, said in the complaint. NYPIRG is a nonprofit research and advocacy group.

Reached Monday, Melius countered: "There was no lobbying. We're totally within the law. . . . There's nothing wrong or sinister."

Interceptor officials couldn't be reached for comment.

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The fate of Interceptor became an issue recently in a lawsuit in which Melius, owner of Oheka Castle in Huntington, won control of the company from its founder, John Ruocco. Disclosure of the lawsuit came after Melius was shot in February at Oheka -- an attack police have yet to solve.

Ignition interlocks, which test a driver's blood-alcohol content before allowing a vehicle to start, became required in 2010 under New York's Leandra's Law in vehicles of DWI offenders placed on probation. Interceptor was one of seven companies in 2010 that gained state certification to supply interlocks, though it since has been decertified.

According to a State Supreme Court decision, Ruocco hired KNET Inc., a company controlled by Melius, "to work with others to amend the laws" to mandate ignition locks. The court eventually ruled that Melius should receive 2.8 million shares in Interceptor as dictated by the contract.

Melius hasn't registered as a lobbyist. Experts have said that whether he engaged in lobbying depends on what actions he took. NYPIRG wants the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics to determine that.

In his complaint, Horner noted the court decision states that Melius provided "'governmental access' for Interceptor, a hallmark of lobbying activity."

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