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Gary Melius, owner of Massena hotel, shot on Long Island

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(AP) - A Long Island businessman involved in a failed effort to open a casino on the St. Regis Mohawk reservation in northern Franklin County in the mid 1990s was shot in the head by an unknown masked assailant on Monday.

Gary A. Melius, 69, was wounded by a gunshot to his head as he sat in his car outside the Oheka Castle, a storied Gold Coast mansion in Huntington, where the businessman and his wife live.

Police say the bullet did not penetrate his skull.

Detectives were saying very little Tuesday about who may have wanted to kill Melius. Officers set up an “informational checkpoint” at a busy thoroughfare near the crime scene but said little else. Police had no description of the assailant, other than the shooter was wearing a mask and said nothing before opening fire.

They say Mr. Melius went into shock and could not recall details about the attack. Detectives are looking into Mr. Melius’s personal and professional dealings as part of their investigation. Mr. Melius was interviewed by detectives at the 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 in a statement.

Mr. Melius spent three years trying to bring a casino to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, withdrawing from the venture in 1996 only because the National Indian Gaming Commission would not approve the $20 million casino deal with the Mohawks as long as he was involved.

“For whatever reason, they think I’m a bad guy,” Mr. Melius was quoted as saying at the time. “I’m really upset over this.”

In the early 1990s, the developer ran into money troubles when a development boom ended, with multiple money judgements, tax liens and claims against him totaling in the multimillion dollar range. He also had several brushes with the law in his late teens and early 20s.

Mr. Melius still has business interests in the north country, including partial ownership of the Quality Inn in downtown Massena.

Mr. Melius was on his way to a lunch with a friend, former U.S. Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato, when he was shot. Mr. D’Amato, who initially described the shooting as an “assassination” attempt, said in a statement that Mr. Melius “is in good spirits, is resting comfortably and is recovering, surrounded by his family and friends.”

Police on Long Island say they are looking for a “neutral-colored” SUV as part of their investigation into the shooting. A Suffolk County police spokeswoman says no suspects have been identified.

The 127-room Oheka Castle was abandoned and in disrepair when Melius bought it in 1984. He sold it a few years later but regained ownership in 2003. Today, it is known as a haven for political officials and the site of some of Long Island’s fanciest weddings.

Staff writer Micaela Bedell contributed to this report

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