Long Island philanthropist Gary Melius shot in the head, but why?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 February, 2014, 9:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 February, 2014, 9:31pm


He owns a castle and gives generously to charities. He has also donated hundreds of thousands to political candidates and counts a retired US senator as a friend. And he was embroiled in a controversy that led to the downfall of a police commissioner.

On Monday, he was shot in the head by an unknown masked assailant.

Detectives are saying very little about who tried to kill businessman Gary Melius of suburban Long Island in the US state of New York. Officers set up an "informational checkpoint" on a busy road near the crime scene but said little else.

Melius was recovering in hospital and was counting his blessings. "If this near-death experience has done anything it is a reminder to live each day, celebrate life and embrace your family," he said.

Melius, 69, was shot as he got into his car at Oheka Castle, a mansion-turned-wedding palace in Huntington where the businessman and his wife live. Police said the shooter was wearing a mask and said nothing before opening fire.

Built to resemble a French chateau, the 127-room Oheka Castle was one of America's largest private homes when built for German-born financier Otto Hermann Kahn in 1919.

It was abandoned and in disrepair when Melius bought it in 1984. Today, it is a haven for top political officials and the site of fancy Long Island weddings.

Melius grew up a truck driver's son and has spoken frequently of his modest upbringing. He worked odd jobs before making his fortune as a real estate investor.

He and his businesses have also been embroiled in dozens of lawsuits, but a friend portrayed them as not unusual for a businessman of Melius' stature.

Last year, he became embroiled in a controversy that resulted in the resignation of then-Nassau County police commissioner Thomas Dale. The district attorney found that Dale had ordered his officers to arrest a man after he testified that he had been illegally paid to collect signatures for a candidate in county elections. Melius, who backed the candidate, had asked Dale to have the young man investigated. The man was arrested on an outstanding warrant.

The district attorney found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing but raised questions about the ethics of Dale's actions, leading to his resignation.

Melius was on his way to a lunch with his friend, former Republican senator Alfonse D'Amato, when he was shot in the head.

Ronald Rosenberg, Melius' lawyer and longtime friend, said Melius never forgot his working class roots. "You couldn't ask for a more loyal and devoted and truer friend," he said.