published Monday, February 24th, 2014

Police: Owner of posh Long Island wedding hall shot

Snow covers the grounds of the Oheka Castle on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, in Huntington, N.Y.
Snow covers the grounds of the Oheka Castle on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, in Huntington, N.Y.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

HUNTINGTON, N.Y. — The politically connected owner of a storied mansion-turned-wedding palace was shot in the head by a masked assailant Monday afternoon while getting into his car in the parking lot of his Long Island venue, Suffolk County police said.

Gary Melius was in surgery at a local hospital, and had been conscious and alert before going in, said Suffolk County Detective Sgt. John O'Sullivan.

O'Sullivan said a call about shots fired came in around 12:30 p.m., and when officers arrived at the scene, they learned Melius had been taken to the hospital by a relative. He said that it does not appear to be an accidental shooting, but that neither the shooter nor a motive has been identified.

Last year, Melius was part of a controversy that resulted in the ouster of then-Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale over the arrest of a witness in an election lawsuit.

The district attorney found that Dale had instructed officers to arrest a 29-year-old Roosevelt man, who had testified in an unrelated case that he had been paid to collect signatures for a third-party candidate. Melius, a supporter of the third-party candidate, then contacted Dale seeking to have the young man investigated. The young man was arrested on an outstanding warrant while riding a county bus on Oct. 5.

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

Oheka Castle is a Gilded Age estate on Long Island's Gold Coast that has become a celebrity wedding site in recent years.

Built to resemble a French chateau, the 127-room Oheka Castle was one of America's largest private homes when built for financier Otto Hermann Kahn in 1919, according to its website. After his 1934 death, it served functions ranging from a retreat for sanitation workers to a military academy. It eventually was abandoned and fell into disrepair in the 1980s.

Melius bought the dilapidated property in 1984 and soon began restoring it. He sold it a few years later, then regained ownership in 2003.

It became a hotel that has hosted celebrity weddings. Kevin Jonas, of the Jonas Brothers, married Danielle Deleasa there in 2009. Former President Bill Clinton presided over the wedding of then-Rep. Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin, a close aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in 2010.

Oheka Castle also been seen as a backdrop in a number of movies, including "Citizen Kane," television shows and magazine photo shoots, and it has been used for high-profile political events and fundraisers.

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