Gary Melius, a well-nown Long Island developer and prominent political patron, was shot in the head by a masked gunman on Monday in the parking lot of his opulent Gold Coast estate in Suffolk County, the police said.
The gunman fled and Mr. Melius was able to stumble back to his house, where his daughter saw him and rushed him to Syosset Hospital. He was later transferred to North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, where he underwent surgery Monday evening.
The police were still searching for the gunman, who they said they believed escaped in a car.
Mr. Melius, 69, who lives on the property, known as Oheka Castle, with his wife, also uses it as a high-end hotel, catering facility and wedding venue. At the time of the shooting, many people were at the house, including lunch patrons and workers.
One of the nation’s largest privately owned homes, Mr. Melius’s 109,000-square-foot French-style chateau has been the setting of some of the region’s most lavish nuptials, including former Representative Anthony D. Weiner’s wedding, which was officiated by former President Bill Clinton.
Deputy Inspector Mathew C. Lewis, commander of the Suffolk County Police Department’s Major Crimes Bureau, said the shooting did not appear to be random. “This looks to be a targeted crime,” he said.
Mr. Melius had just sat down in the driver’s seat of his Mercedes around 12:30 p.m. when a lone person wearing either a mask or a scarf pulled over his face approached the vehicle. The gunman shot Mr. Melius through the driver’s side window.
The bullet wound was near the front of the victim’s head, according to Inspector Lewis. He would not identify the make of the weapon or say whether it had been recovered.
The police were examining security camera footage, but it was unclear if the shooting itself was captured on video. “We don’t know any motive at this time,” Inspector Lewis said. But he said it did not seem to be a robbery as no property appeared to have been stolen.
As to who would want to shoot Mr. Melius, Steve Schlesinger, chief counsel for the Democratic Party on Long Island and a close friend of Mr. Melius, said that after a lifetime in business, he had undoubtedly made enemies. But Mr. Schlesinger said he could not imagine who would want to kill Mr. Melius. “We have been racking our brains,” he said.
Ronald J. Rosenberg, a lawyer for Mr. Melius and a close friend, saw him in the emergency room. “He looked at me, cracked a joke at my expense and said he was sorry he was putting so many people through a tough day,” Mr. Rosenberg said in a statement. “There is an extreme sense of relief at the hospital because you knew he was going to recover. His spirit is strong, his sense of humor is just as off-color as ever.”
Mr. Melius, a close associate of former United States Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, is a powerful political power broker who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats and Republicans alike. He has also raised millions for charity.
Born in Jackson Heights, Queens, Mr. Melius started his career as a plumber before becoming involved in construction. He ultimately made his fortune in real estate.
He bought Oheka Castle in 1984. The house, completed in 1919, was built by the financier Otto Herman Kahn; its exteriors were featured prominently in the movie “Citizen Kane.”
“At the time of its construction, the French-style chateau was, and still is today, the second-largest private residence ever built in America,” according to a website for the estate.
Mr. Melius regularly hosted poker games there with a who’s who of the New York political establishment attending.
“What Gary Melius created at Oheka Castle is a classic Gold Coast environment for virtually every boldface name who walks on Long Island,” said Gary Lewi, a former press secretary for Mr. D’Amato. “People from all sides of the political spectrum have gone through the doors to either share a meal, smoke a cigar, play a game of poker and leave their differences outside.”
Mr. Lewi said Mr. Melius came to enjoy the way everyone, Democrats and Republicans, could find themselves at the estate.
“It was kind of like how Washington used to be, a political generation ago,” Mr. Lewi said. “He greets you at the door with this impish smile, shakes hands and then recedes into the woodwork, as the boldfaced names sit down and enjoy a game of cards.” While friends described Mr. Melius as charming and a smart political operator who was not ruled by ideology, he found himself enmeshed in a scandal last year that led to the resignation of the Nassau County police commissioner, Thomas Dale.
The county’s district attorney found that Mr. Dale had intervened to order an arrest in a politically charged case. It turned out that Mr. Melius had placed the call to Mr. Dale that led to that arrest.
Mr. Lewi said the news of the shooting sent a shock through the political establishment.
“It was inconceivable,” Mr. Lewi said. “It would be akin to a personality like Robert Moses being gunned down in the parking lot of Jones Beach. It was like, ‘What? That cannot be right.’ ”