Gary Melius is a longtime player in the Long Island development and political worlds who is best known for hosting political fundraisers and smoke-filled poker games for top public officials at his Oheka Castle in Huntington.
Melius, 69, who lives at the hotel/catering hall, has had as guests former Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, among other power brokers, and has held fundraisers for officials including Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican.
D'Amato and Mangano visited Melius Monday at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, where he is recovering after being shot at Oheka. Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone also visited.
In the past decade, Melius and his wife, Pam, have donated more than $700,000 to local and state committees and, since the late 1990s, about $170,000 to federal campaigns, according to elections board records.
Melius most recently was in the news after a phone call he made to Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale triggered events that led to the top cop's ouster.
Melius told Dale in the Oct. 4 call that the third-party county executive campaign of ex-Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick wanted to file a perjury charge against Randy White, a witness in a lawsuit challenging many Hardwick ballot petition signatures.
Police never charged White with perjury, but when a misdemeanor warrant for White was discovered, Dale ordered that he be arrested, according to an investigation by Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, a Democrat. An off-duty county police sergeant later served White with a civil subpoena, drafted by Hardwick's lawyer, while White was in custody. Rice called it "a deeply troubling aspect of this case," but said no criminal laws were broken.
Mangano forced Dale out on Dec. 11. Democrats said Hardwick's campaign -- Melius was its sole donor, giving $23,139 -- was meant to siphon votes from former County Executive Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat who ran an unsuccessful rematch against Mangano this fall. Melius says he did nothing wrong.
Born in Jackson Heights, Queens, the truck driver's son moved to West Hempstead as a boy, and as a young man worked odd jobs including plumber's helper, tree trimmer and bowling alley pin setter.
Melius bought his first building in 1975, but has said that his career took off after he borrowed $10,000 in 1979, just before Long Island's real estate boom, to build a Great Neck office complex.
"I started with a dollar-fifty," Melius told Newsday in 1990.
His company at one point owned more than a million square feet of buildings, but hit hard times in the early 1990s, when Melius recalled "rolling quarters" just to pay bills.
He bought Oheka for $1.5 million in 1984, sold it in 1988 for $22 million, leased it back in 1993 and reclaimed full ownership a decade later.
He estimates that he has put $40 million into the property, allowing it to attract guests from around the world and host weddings for celebrities such as one of the Jonas Brothers, and politicians including former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Between frequent weddings and charity events, Oheka is known as a hangout for local power brokers. Besides the poker games, Melius has annual Super Bowl parties that blend his working-class roots with the luxuries of affluence: top-shelf liquor alongside White Castle hamburgers.
"I once asked him why he would buy this huge place and call it your home, and he'd always respond that it was just fun," said former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a Democrat turned Republican who received more than $60,000 in contributions from Melius, according to state records. With Paul LaRocco