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Should school guards be armed?

A growing number of Long Island school districts are looking into security measures in the wake of the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

On Monday, four armed guards joined the security staff in the Miller Place school district. Mount Sinai school district officials are reviewing the idea of adding armed guards. The Center Moriches superintendent had recommended arming security guards at a school board meeting in January, and will push the issue forward. And other school district superintendents said this week that they have considered the pros and cons of armed guards after a shooter killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school.

Do you think school security guards should be armed?

Read more about increased Long Island school district security measures here.

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Please respond in 250 words or less. Your response becomes the property of Newsday Media Group. It will be edited and may be republished in all media.

Comedians Esther Povitsky and Benji Aflalo give their best dating advice

If Esther Povitsky and Benji Aflalo want you to take anything away from their show it’s this — their relationship is strictly platonic and, yes, they like it better that way.

The two comedians behind Freeform’s new series “Alone Together” portray characters not unlike themselves. They’re blunt, millennial BFFs who prefer kicking back on the couch with a personal pizza to putting any real effort into their love lives.

“The relationship [you see on screen] is real and it’s the truth,” Povitsky says. “For some reason, we’re so obsessed as a culture with the will they/won’t they, but why not give the opposite of that a chance and let a man and a woman do a buddy comedy together? There’s so many stories to be told between a man and woman that have nothing to do with sex or romance.” Aflalo agrees, adding: “Young people don’t really get married as much either, so why not explore that friendship dynamic?”

Several episodes in the first season — including the third episode’s fertility plot where Benji thinks he’s unable to have children — are based on the duo’s real-life friendship. They met nearly nine years ago at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles where they were both performing stand-up. The secret to keeping someone around for nine years? “Have no one else,” they both agree.

They wrote the script for their Lonely Island-produced show two years ago and pushed it out on Vimeo, where it lived until being picked up by the Freeform network. “Alone Together” has already been renewed for a second season.

We asked these friendship experts to share their best dating advice. Here’s what they said.

On a first date, who should pay?

Benji Aflalo Benji:

“The guy should always pay. It costs a lot of money to be a woman, to get mani-pedis all the time. I know there’s that whole ‘men and women are equal’ thing but I think men should pay — but that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to anything in return.”

Esther Povitsky Esther:

“Men and women are equal. I think the guy should pay because it’s a romantic gesture and also because I’m not a guy.”

Benji Aflalo Benji:

“Esther, you just don’t want to pay for anything.”

Sit on same side or across the booth?

Benji Aflalo Benji:

“Same side is good. It also opens you up to look at people better looking than the one you’re with.”

Esther Povitsky Esther:

“You asked her on a date, you a–hole.”

Benji Aflalo Benji:

“Ok, well I just don’t like facing the bathroom when I’m at a restaurant.”

Play it cool or show your interest?

Benji Aflalo Benji:

“Play it cool. If you show you’re interested, now you’re competing with people who have social skills. If you just lean out you might seem mysterious.”

Esther Povitsky Esther:

“Show you’re interested! If you play it cool, I’m out. I’m not playing games.”

Benji Aflalo Benji:

“What if they’re playing it cool but they still paid for your dinner?”

Esther Povitsky Esther:

“NO! I’m still insecure. Engage and show interest.”

Meet online or in person? Dating profile red flags?

Benji Aflalo Benji:

“Online. And nothing’s a red flag. Except if a girl has height stuff, like ‘I’m 5’10.’ Then she’s too tall for me and I know she’ll be throwing her height in my face. Or, ‘I got my own money I don’t need yours,’ that’s aggressive.”

Esther Povitsky Esther:

“Everything. I’m not an online dater.”

In Focus: Long Island


The Cost of Corruption

Emmy nominee 2018

The Cost of Corruption

A dumpster-diving whistleblower shed light on alleged corruption in the town of Oyster Bay. After two years reporting on the story, federal investigators have brought charges against Nassau's top politician and his wife, and a town's supervisor, in a case that began with a local restaurateur.

Viva Africa

Emmy nominee 2018

Viva Africa

Shadrack Boakye, who came to Brentwood as a refugee from Liberia, Africa, now writes and directs youth-oriented plays on Long Island with the Truth Urban Theater Group.

Sylvia Smith

Emmy nominee 2018

Sylvia Smith

After serving as a waitress there for half her life, Smith says goodbye to the patrons and co-workers she regards as family.


Emmy nominee 2018


Seven religious leaders tell us how they view “sanctuary.” Even though the term is rooted in shared principles, each of the faith-based communities offer a unique perspective on providing physical and spiritual refuge to those in need.

Bomba drum-making

Emmy nominee 2018

Bomba drum-making

Joe Santiago says he hopes to pass the tradition of making bomba drums along to the next generation.

A musical resurrection

Emmy nominee 2018

A musical resurrection

David Herman restores instruments rescued from the Holocaust to revive their voices and give them a new life.

The Cut

Emmy nominee 2018

The Cut

We examined the stories and dangers of cutting weight experienced by MMA fighters, boxers, wrestlers and jockeys.

Remembering 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert

Emmy nominee 2018

Remembering 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert

First Lt. Joseph Theinert was killed in Afghanistan almost seven years ago when his unit was under heavy fire when an improvised bomb exploded near him. Theinert's parents are involved in giving support to veterans and Gold Star Families through the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund.

Precedent: Reflecting on Japanese internment

Emmy nominee 2018

Precedent: Reflecting on Japanese internment

Internment survivors Mitsue Salador and Madeleine Sugimoto, along with Robert Machida, whose uncle and aunt were among thousands of Japanese-Americans interned by the U.S. federal government during World War II, share their experiences and discuss how the 1940's atmosphere relates to today's rhetoric.

How Hewlett’s helmet sensors work

Emmy nominee 2018

How Hewlett’s helmet sensors work

Hewlett High School invested in sensor technology to monitor the safety of its athletes in football and boys lacrosse. It became the first high school on Long Island to use a new sensor system from Canada-based GForceTracker. Here's how it works.

Helmets optional for high school girls lacrosse players

Emmy nominee 2018

Helmets optional for high school girls lacrosse players

High school girls lacrosse players now have the option of wearing new lacrosse-specific helmets, renewing a decade-old debate over whether headgear will make the game more physical and aggressive.

Softball pitchers turning to protective facemasks

Emmy nominee 2018

Softball pitchers turning to protective facemasks

Some high school pitchers on Long Island are now choosing to wear a protective facemask since there has been increased awareness in all sports about the dangers of head injuries.

In Love and Death

Emmy nominee 2018

In Love and Death

During the hardest period of their lives, families turn to Vanessa Zenz, a funeral director, for comfort during their grief. Her sincere care for her job and the people she meets and takes care of is anything but ordinary.

Winemaker and Boatbuilder

Emmy nominee 2018

Winemaker and Boatbuilder

Trent Preszler is CEO of Bedell Vineyards, and in his spare time has taught himself to build canoes. His Mattituck workshop is called Preszler Woodshop, and he employs traditional techniques to bend and hone hundreds of strips of assorted wood to fashion his canoes.

Birthday Wishes

Emmy nominee 2018

Birthday Wishes

A Long Island organization, Birthday Wishes, throws birthday parties for children living in homeless shelters. Newsday takes you along to a few parties and peers into the lighter moments of a mother and son's time in a shelter made a little brighter by the organization.


The Last Trailer Park

Emmy winner 2017

The Last Trailer Park

Inside the last trailer park in Nassau County, a tight-knit community has dispersed after a spirited 9-year legal battle that the residents were never equipped to fight. Newsday followed the last remaining family as it struggled against a deadline to find an alternative to becoming homeless.

Out of the Shadows: Remembering the Negro Leagues

Emmy winner 2017

Out of the Shadows: Remembering the Negro Leagues

From archival interviews with Negro League legends Buck O'Neil and Monte Irvin to commentary from contemporary baseball figures lJoe Torre, Curtis Granderson, Tony Clark and Rob Manfred, Newsday examines the history of Negro League baseball the breaking of the color barrier.

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church recovers from fire

Emmy winner 2017

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church recovers from fire

After a devastating fire last July, the congregants of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in West Babylon are finally back in their building. After months of rebuilding and the cleaning of icons, they will hold their Easter services inside their church on Sunday, May 1, 2016.

Chris Weidman: The Fighter and the Father

Emmy winner 2017

Chris Weidman: The Fighter and the Father

Explore the professional and personal lives of the former UFC champion Chris Weidman through a parallel video experience. Using a unique, dual-view technique, the viewer can toggle between two timelines, Weidman the father and Weidman the fighter.


Life After Football

Emmy winner 2016

Life After Football

Newsday explores why so many former NFL players struggle while transitioning to life after football. Hear from former players including Wesley Walker, Boomer Esiason, and more.

Gabriel's World

Emmy winner 2016

Gabriel's World

It's probably safe to say you've never met a child like Gabriel Dispenziere. Gabriel, who has eosinophilic esophagitis, is allergic to nearly all food.

The Spice of Life

Emmy winner 2016

The Spice of Life

Nonagenarian Earl Fultz of East Marion finds a hot seller in cHarissa, a cumin-and-olive-oil-based condiment he bottles in tribute to his late wife, Gloria.


Emmy winner 2016


Chef Marc Anthony Bynum gave Newsday a behind-the-scenes look at the life and struggles of a chef trying to open his first restaurant.


Reptile Guy

Emmy winner 2015

Reptile Guy

For Erik Callender, following his dream means teaching about dozens of reptiles, some rescued, to audiences at parties, schools and events.

Creating Sea Salt

Emmy winner 2015

Creating Sea Salt

Scott and Kassata Bollman of Southold run North Fork Sea Salt, a sea salt-making business. The young married couple create the salt from water harvested on the North Fork.

JFK's Message of Hope

Emmy winner 2015

JFK's Message of Hope

Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Peter King, former Gov. David Paterson and other politicians and historians share their views on JFK's legacy.

Eddie Gordon's rise in MMA

Emmy winner 2015

Eddie Gordon's rise in MMA

The story of how this Freeport resident went from a 300-pound former college football player to the winner of Season 19 of the UFC's Ultimate Fighter.


Against all odds


Against all odds

Six Long Islanders who were diagnosed with terminal illnesses talk about their grim prognoses and how they overcame the odds to become survivors.

The new farmers

Emmy winner 2014

The new farmers

On the East End, where suburbia gives way to open spaces, a new breed of farmer takes root. They walked away from established jobs to till the earth. Local sustainable agriculture is not just their career, it's a lifestyle.


Racer's struggle to go pro

Emmy winner 2013

Racer's struggle to go pro

Ben Rio, a Long Island motocross racer, is coping with the challenges of becoming a professional, while developing close relationships with the kids he mentors in the sport and helping them with their own challenges.


9/11: A decade later


9/11: A decade later

From a laugh that has been silenced to a favorite recipe that remains uncooked, time does not heal all wounds. A decade after the terror attacks on the World Trade Center, more than 75 Long Island families who lost loves ones that morning shared on camera not only their stories, but their souls in this Emmy Award-winning multimedia project.

A little girl's fight to live

Emmy winner 2012

A little girl's fight to live

Marisa Carney, 5, was diagnosed with an extremely rare childhood brain disorder that causes uncontrollable obesity and breathing problems, putting the afflicted at risk for seizures, cardiac arrest and death. There are only 75 documented cases worldwide, no known cause and no cure.

Long Island’s culture of power brokers: Your take

The former Nassau County executive. The former Suffolk County district attorney. The former Suffolk County police chief. The former Oyster Bay town supervisor. None have escaped federal prosecutors.

A Newsday investigation details the rise of Gary Melius, an outsider who became a power broker and owner of Long Island’s premiere political clubhouse.

We want to hear from you: What do you think about Long Island’s transactional political culture?

Submit your response

Thank you for your submission. Check back soon to see if it was posted.

Please respond in 250 words or less. Your response becomes the property of Newsday Media Group. It will be edited and may be republished in all media.

Film shines new light on LI triplets separated at birth

New York, 1980: Three Long Island brothers, identical triplets separated at birth, rediscover each other at age 19. Their amazing similarities and joy in finding one another make them a good-news sensation.

Now: The three brothers — David Kellman, Robert Shafran and Eddy Galland — are being introduced to a new generation through a documentary film called “Three Identical Strangers.” The film, directed by Tim Wardle, won a special jury award at the recent Sundance Film Festival, and has been purchased by the distribution company Neon (“I, Tonya.”)

Much has changed since the curly-haired trio with megawatt smiles dominated the talk-show circuit.

Their dance with fame took a darker turn when the brothers discovered they had been unwitting participants in a secret human behavior experiment.

The brothers were born on Long Island and their mother gave them over to an adoption agency. They were deliberately placed into separate homes. The families knew the boys’ development was being charted. But neither the boys nor their adoptive parents knew about the other brothers, or that the true purpose of the study was to compare the triplets to measure the effects of heredity versus environment, nature versus nurture.

Fast-forward two decades to 1997 when the brothers first discussed the study publicly. One brother has died, and the anger and bitterness of the remaining brothers still burns over the wrongs they feel they suffered.

“How can you do this with little children?’’ asked Shafran in a Newsday article at the time.

With the premiere of the documentary, the remaining brothers, now 56, find themselves opening up about their lives again. They still say they shouldn’t have been separated and kept in the dark about one another. They should have been told.

“It was cruel; it was wrong,” Kellman told The Washington Post at the film festival.

What’s happened to them over the years?

Life. And death.

A year before the triplets reunited, Shafran had a brush with the law. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter for his part in a robbery in which an elderly New Rochelle woman was beaten to death. He was sentenced to probation.

Shafran was actually trying to restart his life when he enrolled in upstate New York’s Sullivan County Community College and found his identical brother Galland in 1980.

Michael Domnitz brought them together. He attended the college and was a good friend of Galland, who had left the school when Shafran arrived.

Domnitz asked Shafran the key question.

“Were you adopted?”

The answer led them to a pay phone to call Galland, of New Hyde Park. Domnitz remembers he was so excited he kept dropping the coins he was trying to slide into the pay slot.

That phone call paid off big-time. The third brother, Kellman, saw their story in the papers, and Long Island’s modern version of the Three Musketeers was formed.

The documentary shows the brothers still wowed by their discovery of one another, but disturbed by the unsettling secrecy of the study.

Nonetheless, they still want to read it.

The twin study, conducted by the late Dr. Peter Neubauer, has never been published. The materials remain under restricted access at Yale University until 2065. The brothers have received 10,000 pages of information, some of it redacted.

The study was overseen by the Children’s Development Center in New York, which has merged over time into the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. A spokeswoman for the Jewish Board said the brothers have been given the records that pertain to them.

The brothers, speaking through their publicist, declined to be interviewed until a movie release date is set.

Domnitz, for his part, said that when the brothers first met, they bonded so strongly that they started building their lives around each other. Having missed a shared childhood, the young men proceeded to create one. They acted like little kids together, and their on-camera antics enthralled the country.

These days, Domnitz noted, things are different.

In 1995, Eddy Galland, suffering from depression, committed suicide in his home in Maplewood, New Jersey. He was just 33, and he left behind a wife and a young daughter.

Shafran went on to become a lawyer.

In 2004, Shafran, then 42 and living in Brooklyn, was charged with drunken driving after police said he struck and injured three teenagers crossing a street in Bensonhurst. Shafran was sentenced to 140 hours of community service and a $500 fine, according to online public records.

He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and has two kids, Domnitz said.

Kellman is an insurance consultant who lives in Maplewood. Domnitz said he did not come to know Kellman as well as the other two brothers.

Four years ago, Kellman declared personal bankruptcy, according to public records.

The two remaining brothers still get together to play golf and “they see each other on holidays,” Domnitz said.

But they don’t smile as much, and when they do, it’s not that big, beaming grin they had as teens.

Part of that is aging, he said, and part of it is, well, all the rest.

Video: Pathway to Power

The Politics of Corruption: Christopher McPartland

Suffolk County District Attorney Chief Aide Christopher McPartland

Christopher McPartland

Charges: Conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding; witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding; obstruction of justice; accessory after the fact to the deprivation of John Doe’s civil rights

Christopher McPartland, one of Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s chief aides, who ran the office’s political corruption unit, was indicted along with Spota in October 2017 on federal charges related to allegations the two were involved in a cover-up of ex-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke’s assault of a suspect. McPartland pleaded not guilty to the charges. A spokesman for the district attorney’s office said McPartland since has been reassigned “to duties unrelated to his former responsibilities.”

Other LI officials charged with abuse of power

The Politics of Corruption: Dean Skelos

Ex-State Senator Dean Skelos

Dean Skelos

Charges: Conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right; conspiracy to commit honest services fraud; extortion under color of official right; solicitation of bribes and gratuities

Dean Skelos, former Republican State Senate majority leader, was convicted in December 2015 of using his power to help his son, Adam, get jobs and payments from businesses. Federal prosecutors said the senator pressured three companies to give jobs, fees and benefits worth $300,000 to Adam, doing favors in Albany for the companies in return. He also intervened with Nassau County to help one of them on a contract, prosecutors said. His son was indicted on the same charges. In May 2016, Skelos was sentenced to 5 years, and his son was sentenced to 6½. In September 2017, an appeals court overturned the convictions. A retrial is set for June 2018.

The latest on the Skelos case

Jan. 29, 2018: Judge orders Adam Skelos to mental health treatment Jan. 1, 2018: State readies for 5 corruption trials in 2018 Nov. 1, 2017: Vacating of Skelos conviction prompts finger-pointing Oct. 31, 2017: Retrial date set for Skelos corruption charges Sept. 27, 2017: Will Skelos’ overturned conviction affect Mangano, Venditto? Sept. 26, 2017: Editorial: After Skelos and Silver rulings, keep up quest for Albany honesty Sept. 26, 2017: Appeals court overturns Dean Skelos conviction Aug. 7, 2017: Dean Skelos lawyers cite Silver reversal in appeal July 7, 2017: Anthony Bonomo, Skelos trial witness, ousted from company May 8, 2017: Ex-Republican leader Dean Skelos deserves new trial, lawyer says May 18, 2017: Charles Lavine: Don’t use campaign funds for criminal defense March 25, 2017: Brown: Nassau Republicans need to act on contract reforms March 25, 2017: Brown: Nassau Republicans need to act on contract reforms March 23, 2017: Contractors bypass Nassau disclosure law Dec. 28, 2016: Skelos, Silver postscript: LI firms face lobbying fines Oct. 27, 2016: Judge questions insurer’s refusal to pay in Adam Skelos case Aug. 4, 2016: Skelos, son to stay out of prison pending appeal July 28, 2016: Dean Skelos formally disbarred after corruption conviction July 15, 2016: Skelos, Silver have hefty campaign cash to pay legal bills June 16, 2016: State corruption deal would take away convicted pols’ pensions June 7, 2016: Editorial: Albany should cast a wide net in pension-stripping bill May 12, 2016: Skelos sentenced to 5 years in corruption; son gets 6 1/2 April 27, 2016: Dean Skelos: $500,000 fine in corruption case ‘unwarranted’ April 15, 2016: Dean Skelos judge questions legality of increasing fine; rejects bid for new trial April 4, 2016: Dean Skelos, son Adam should face stiff sentences April 4: 2016: Letter: Dean Skelos’ plea was pathetic March 27, 2016: Pols among writers of 184 letters on Dean Skelos’ behalf March 23, 2016: Adam Skelos asks for ‘mercy’ in sentencing memo March 14, 2016: Dean Skelos’ sentencing postponed until April by judge Feb. 25, 2016: Letter: Pensions for convicts is beyond troubling Feb. 17, 2016: Dean Skelos, convicted of corruption, gets $95G state pension Feb. 4, 2016: Dean Skelos, son get postponement in sentencing on corruption conviction Jan. 26, 2016: Dean Skelos, son Adam, seek new trial, or acquittal of federal corruption charges Jan. 15, 2016: Dean Skelos spent $762G on legal defense, records show Dec. 30, 2015: Dean Skelos’ seat sparks political battling Dec. 29, 2015: Ex. Sen-Dean Skelos files for pension 11 days after conviction, officials say Dec. 21, 2015: Dean Skelos park in Rockville Centre subject of name-change effort May 31, 2015: Most Nassau contracts like the one in Skelos probe don’t go to lowest bidder, records show
Other LI officials charged with abuse of power

With new players, will LI’s entrenched system survive?

Oheka Castle’s grand ballroom has been home to decades of fundraisers, weddings and parties for Long Island’s elite. In a small, linen-white dining room nearby, intimate networking lunches hosted by the influential Independence Party have drawn a steady stream of judges and law clerks. Down in the basement is what the castle’s proud proprietor, Gary Melius, calls his “man cave,” where some of the Island’s most powerful figures have smoked cigars and traded stories.

The castle has stood unrivaled as an expression of power on Long Island, and its bonding rituals provide a blueprint of how local influence operates, bearing fruit for Melius, his allies and many others. Whatever it costs the public, for those in power the system works.

The grand tour

Melius nearly lost his life in the shadow of his greatest success.

From the day he bought the abandoned castle, in 1984, Melius dedicated himself to restoring Oheka. He sold it in 1988 for $22.5 million to a Japanese billionaire accused of negligence in a hotel fire that killed 33 people, and years later bought it back from the businessman’s family for a third of that recorded price.

He was cited for ignoring fire safety and zoning laws and fought his neighbors, but after an aggressive political and public relations campaign, he won approval from Huntington officials he had supported to operate the castle as a commercial enterprise. Over the years, he said, he had invested millions renovating the castle, trying to recapture its original look.

He transformed what was then a 127-room mansion into an exclusive setting for lavish wedding receptions, the home of a high-end restaurant and boutique hotel, and a mingling ground for Long Island’s political, law enforcement and judicial elite.

A night at the hotel can cost more than $1,000, a catered event tens of thousands — up to $500 a head, in addition to a rental fee of up to $12,000. Restaurant guests can sample appetizers like lobster meatballs for $20 or steak entrees for up to $55.

The curious can book tours, with prices ranging from $15 to $100, according to Oheka’s website.

There’s a lot to see.

Start at the main entrance, where the marble steps, wrought-iron railings of the grand staircase, and shimmering crystal chandelier offer an expansive introduction to a mansion where F. Scott Fitzgerald was supposed to have gotten inspiration for Jay Gatsby’s fantasy palace in fictional West Egg, Long Island.

These days, it has been used as a location for Taylor Swift’s 2014 “Blank Space” video about a woman living the Gatsby life who unleashes her fury on a cheating beau in, of all places, a castle parking lot.

Just outside the castle are the gardens and Great Lawn, where Melius holds an annual Garden Party hosted by Friends of Oheka, a nonprofit formed to raise restoration money and public awareness of the castle. After buying tickets, party guests may rent antique Gatsby-style attire and props, like tommy guns, through an Oheka website.

Musicologist Roger Hall, who had lived as a student at the Eastern Military Academy when it was located at Oheka, created a website called “Memories of Oheka.” On it, and in a subsequent interview, he described a 2004 garden party where, he said, Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson played Jay Gatsby. Cuthbertson said he did not remember doing so.

The formal gardens, with eight reflecting pools, three fountains and assorted statuary, are also a popular spot for weddings, among them those of the singer Kevin Jonas; Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin in a ceremony officiated by former President Bill Clinton; and the late mob boss John Gotti’s grandson, John Agnello, with his proud mother, Victoria Gotti, looking on.

The 23-foot-high Grand Ballroom, lit by crystal and silver wall sconces, dominates the second floor. The sleek bar and restaurant are open to the public, and Melius often stops in to greet guests, on occasion showing them just where in the head he was shot.

In the morning, guests can breakfast in the yellow Terrace Room, added to accommodate larger events, or stroll amid the gardens.

Oheka, Melius has said, “is a place of happiness.”

The insider’s tour

But there’s another tour of Oheka that can be constructed, shaped by the workings of Long Island politics.

This is a more private world of cigar parties, man-cave gatherings, power lunches and political and judicial candidate screenings, over which Melius has at times presided, where local players forge relationships and cut deals outside public view.

Politically, the result is something in which Oheka has served less as a backdrop than an agent.

“Politics is a perception business, and if you can represent yourself as someone who can move votes or move money, or both, you’re powerful,” said Jay Jacobs, the Nassau Democratic leader with whom Melius has had a tumultuous relationship. “Oheka is an imposing, magnificent facility. I liken going to Oheka Castle to in some respects going into the Oval Office.”

In this world, it’s not a wedding involving a pop star that catches the eye. It’s weddings of people like Steven Schlesinger.

Schlesinger, then counsel to the Nassau Democratic Party, married Caryn Fink, a law clerk, there in March 2014, filling the grand ballroom, restaurant and bar.

Assemb. Phil Ramos and his wife, Angela, held their wedding reception in the Terrace Room in 2015, documenting the event in an elaborate video.

Chuck Ribando, former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano’s deputy for public safety, held his daughter’s wedding at Oheka when he was chief investigator for then-Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

For at least some insiders, the payment terms are different from what Melius normally charges. In an August 2014 interview, he said he routinely gives discounts to law enforcement personnel and personal friends, including those in politics. He didn’t offer examples. But Schlesinger didn’t pay for his wedding until five months later, a day after a Newsday reporter made inquiries about judicial assignments he and other associates of Melius had received. He produced a $75,000 check as proof of payment.

Financial interactions involving Melius and Schlesinger drew the interest of the courts, where an examiner found later that there had been no invoices for the wedding at Oheka and that an internal worksheet listed no money due and contained the word “barter.”

The Friday cigar nights, at which a strong law enforcement contingent has mingled with the Island’s elite, have been held in the castle’s courtyards, according to several regular attendees. Mangano dropped in regularly with then-County Sheriff Michael Sposato often driving. Alfonse D’Amato, the former U.S. senator who remains politically involved, has also popped by occasionally.

Robert Hart, who headed the Long Island FBI office and has served as a deputy Nassau police commissioner, has attended, as has Malcolm Smith, once the Democratic leader of the State Senate who was convicted on corruption charges involving his would-be New York City mayoral campaign in 2013.

Sprinkled through many of the rooms have been several decades of fundraisers for such figures as state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Mangano, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, then-Suffolk Legis. Lou D’Amaro, and Steve Levy, then-Suffolk County executive. In an interview, Melius said he had hosted in-kind fundraisers for Levy and D’Amaro, meaning that he donated the cost of the events to their campaigns.

Many of those closest to Melius have often been invited to the library for brandy and cigars. State Independence Party leader Frank MacKay, who has posted Oheka photos on his Facebook page, has been one. Mangano has been another.

Far removed from the public tour, past the basement bakery and laundry, there’s what Melius calls the man cave, which remained unfinished as the rest of Oheka was reborn, with wooden planks leading to a wall lined with urinals. Melius has one rule for that room: No women allowed — even politicians he’s trying to cultivate.

In a March 2012 email to Rice, then the Nassau district attorney, in which he passed along the resume of a good friend’s son, Melius wrote: “Hi, Kathleen, I really enjoyed the other night, lots of laughs. Sorry I couldn’t bring you to the man cave, wink wink — but rules are rules.” That email and other emails provided by the district attorney’s office show no response from Rice, and her office said she made none.

The Chaplin Room, where the fuchsia walls are lined with photos and posters of the Little Tramp, is another special place. Although the public can rent it for parties, it outranks even the man cave as a home of political muscle-flexing. Beyond the election night gatherings that have drawn former Congressmen Steve Israel and Gary Ackerman, and other top elected officials, the truly special event is the running poker game, where the regulars have included D’Amato, Schlesinger and Dennis Lemke, a prominent criminal defense attorney, others who have attended said.

The Chaplin Room also has been used by the Independence Party to screen candidates for office, according to Jacobs, the Nassau Democratic chief. Oheka is the unofficial headquarters of the party, which has drawn enough votes to sway judicial elections in Suffolk and provides a platform for MacKay to negotiate complicated cross-endorsements that can assure a candidate’s victory.

“If you’re the Independence Party, your home court is an advantage,” Jacobs said.

Melius has been listed as the party’s chief adviser, and he has paid MacKay, the party’s statewide and Suffolk County chief, as a public relations executive at Oheka. In 2016, MacKay earned between $20,000 and $50,000 according to state filings that require party leaders to list outside income in broad ranges. In previous years, he made between $100,000 and $150,000 annually. Oheka also employs Richard Bellando, the party’s Nassau head and Melius’ former son-in-law.

A dining room lined with silk murals has hosted what MacKay calls “power networking luncheons,” where he and Melius have brought together Broadway producers, local politicians, law clerks and judges.

Judges are prohibited from politicking, so casual gatherings with party leaders offer an opportunity to get known. The connections can be useful.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the history of Thomas Whelan, who, while Babylon Town attorney in 1988, drove across the median on the Southern State Parkway and hit an oncoming car, seriously injuring a Commack man.

Whelan was charged with second-degree assault, vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated. He ultimately was convicted of three misdemeanors and a violation and sentenced to probation for 3 years. He was not reappointed by the town when his term expired.

It was a setback that could derail a career.

But in 2000, Whelan, who is godfather to MacKay’s daughter, saw his career resurrected after MacKay constructed a complex cross-endorsement deal on his behalf. By agreeing to Independence Party backing for Democratic candidates, MacKay persuaded the Democrats to back Whelan for a Suffolk Supreme Court judgeship, party leaders told Newsday at the time. He also secured Conservative and Working Families lines.

With those cross-endorsements, Whelan won with the highest vote in the 10th Judicial District.

By 2011, his career in full bloom, Whelan was assigned to one of Suffolk’s three commercial courts, where business litigation and foreclosures provide opportunities for coveted judicial appointments for lawyers and property managers to oversee troubled assets.

Whelan was also a welcome guest at Oheka and attended the castle’s posh Super Bowl parties, Melius recalled in an interview.

In an interview with Newsday editors last year, Melius readily acknowledged Oheka’s popularity, and his. “Everybody comes to me,” he said. “You know why? I deliver if I can. If I can’t, I tell you. I don’t pay anybody off.”

Power in action

Oheka’s power hubs intersect freely, particularly over arcane opportunities that only political insiders might recognize.

One involved Oheka itself, already the beneficiary of many decisions by the Huntington Town Board that allowed and expanded commercial activity in a residential neighborhood. Many board members frequented the castle, had become Melius’ friends and received generous campaign contributions from him. They credited their decisions with restoring an architectural gem.

But those decisions paled in potential impact to one they made in 2012 permitting construction of 191 condos on the property projected to sell for between $1 million and $5 million. The potential value created by their vote could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Cuthbertson, a Democratic board member whom other guests recall seeing at annual garden parties at Oheka and who received more than $30,000 in contributions from Melius over the years, opened the way in 2009. He sponsored a resolution establishing cluster zoning of golf courses — including the one next to Oheka. Such zoning allows a developer to build more units than normally permitted in one area of the cluster in exchange for preserving open space in another.

Cuthbertson then sponsored the critical 2012 zoning change to allow 191 condominium units on the property, which passed unanimously. Oheka Castle is 109,000 square feet. The proposed condo complex would be 393,427 square feet.

At the time, Cuthbertson was engaged with Melius in another lucrative public realm. They and Melius’ daughter, Kelly Melius-DiPreta, were involved in two court-appointed receiverships that earned the three a total of $284,000 in fees and expenses.

Cuthbertson did not disclose those ties at the time of the town board’s vote. He said this was because his was a “parallel” relationship in which a judge appointed him and the Meliuses separately, although he did acknowledge that he had recommended Melius-DiPreta for her assignment. The town ethics board, whose members are appointed by the town board, later found that he committed no “technical ethical violation,” but said Cuthbertson should disclose such appointments in the future.

The judge in both receiverships was Whelan.

When he was assigned the case of a foreclosed medical building in Islandia in 2008, Whelan named Cuthbertson to the role of receiver, the person who manages a building’s finances and overall operation.

Whelan chose Melius to run the building day-to-day as property manager. He was not on an approved list of professionals established by the courts after repeated scandals involving judicial appointments of donors and cronies.

Because Melius was not on the list, court rules required Whelan to write a finding “of good cause” to appoint him. In similar instances, other judges have cited a person’s particular expertise with an unusual type of property, like a horse farm. The Islandia property is an office building.

Whelan declared that Melius had “the appropriate ethical character” for the post.

Whelan’s lawyer, Clifford Robert of Uniondale, said in a statement that the judge, who was subsequently transferred out of the commercial part, had “proudly upheld the highest standards of both the practice of law and of the judiciary.”

Cuthbertson, who was paid $101,594 for his role in the Islandia building, said in an interview that he had recommended Melius’ daughter as manager for a subsequent receivership, because he thought she was well qualified.

Altogether, Melius and friends and allies collected more than $750,000 in fees from four receiverships. Among those allies were his former son-in-law, Bellando; his lawyer, Ronald Rosenberg, and Schlesinger, court records show.

Coveted appointment

Schlesinger, meanwhile, has reaped rewards in another judicial sphere and shared them with a charity created by Melius, his Oheka poker pal.

He was appointed by the Nassau County Surrogate’s Court to manage a foundation created by Shirley Gitenstein of Atlantic Beach after her death in 2007. The Kermit Gitenstein Foundation, with $11.4 million in assets, financed Jewish causes and health care.

This kind of appointment is coveted by politically connected lawyers because foundations created by wealthy individuals who die without heirs need to be managed and their funds distributed. The fees for carrying out these functions can be substantial. Records show Schlesinger earned more than $100,000.

Schlesinger gave $250,000 of the Gitenstein money to the Elena Melius Foundation, named for Melius’ mother. The donation came two days before Schlesinger’s wedding. He also provided $50,000 of the Gitenstein Foundation’s money to a charity started by another Oheka poker pal, D’Amato, who spent the money on a water park that was built in his hometown, Island Park.

In May 2016, the newly elected Nassau Surrogate’s Court Judge Margaret C. Reilly issued a scathing ruling and removed Schlesinger, calling him “unfit” because he had engaged in potential self-dealing, exceeded his authority as receiver, and had failed to comply with court orders.

Joseph W. Ryan Jr., appointed by the court to examine the case, found that Schlesinger had allowed Melius to direct where thousands of dollars in grants from the Gitenstein Foundation should go. Reilly said that was a conflict of interest, citing an email to Melius from Schlesinger’s legal assistant that asked him “to list the organizations Gary Melius decided on and the amounts requested . . . I don’t want to miss any.”

Both the state attorney general’s office and the Eastern District of the U.S. attorney’s office investigated the transactions. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.

In a court settlement related to the state attorney general’s office inquiry, Schlesinger agreed to stop taking commissions from the foundation and pay back $150,000 he’d earned as receiver. He was forbidden to serve on a nonprofit or charity for five years.

Schlesinger declined to be interviewed for this story. He said in a statement that he had made “no admission of wrongdoing.” His spokesman, Gary Lewi, has said Schlesinger “discharged his fiduciary duty appropriately.”

Melius has strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Partnership deteriorates

Other deals involving Melius imploded because of friction between him and his partners. One involved an engineer, John Ruocco, who created a company, Interceptor Ignition Interlocks, that produced a device to prevent people convicted of drunken driving from starting their cars if inebriated.

To get an edge on the competition in the market, court records show, he gave Melius nearly 3 million shares of stock in return for help in getting Nassau and Suffolk to enact regulations that mandated use of technology employed by his company.

Melius reached out to his contacts, including D’Amaro, the Suffolk legislator for whom he sponsored an Oheka fundraiser, and the Mangano administration. Both counties approved regulations that favored the company’s technology, and Interceptor’s market share soared.

Interceptor’s market share went from 7 percent to 54 percent in Nassau. In Suffolk, the company’s market share increased from 13 percent to 22 percent.

But the partnership deteriorated. Melius sued Ruocco, and, with the approval of both sides, the case was decided by Whelan. He issued a ruling that gave Melius control of the company’s stock.

A New York State appeals court eventually reversed Whelan’s decision, saying that he had failed to hold a jury trial, as Ruocco had requested, and thus should not have granted summary judgment in favor of Melius. Ruocco has said he hopes he can revive the company.

Prior to the appeals court decision in December 2016, Melius had struggled to put Interceptor completely under his control.

At the first board meeting after Whelan’s decision, on Feb. 21, 2014, Melius added one ally to the board but was unable to gain a majority.

Three days later, Melius was shot.

A shooting unfolds

The grainy video lasts all of 49 seconds. It starts with Gary Melius in a dark winter jacket striding on a diagonal from the lower right of the frame across the rear parking lot of Oheka Castle. After about 12 seconds, he reaches the driver’s side of his black Mercedes and lowers himself in.

As he does, a dark sedan leaves the lot. It circles behind him, slows briefly and pulls out of the frame.

Eighteen seconds later, a tall man wearing a winter jacket becomes visible getting out of an SUV at the far left of the frame, hunching a bit and moving quickly as he snakes among three cars to reach the driver’s side of the Mercedes. Only the back of his head is visible as he fires the shot that strikes Melius in the left temple. He remains there two and a half seconds.

The gunman then hustles away, crouching at two points looking toward his hands and then back at the car, as a worker emerges from behind a building at the parking lot’s edge. Next, the shooter vanishes, about 13 seconds after he first appeared.

He remains unidentified to this day.

After the shooting, detectives sought the names of Melius’ adversaries, trying to determine who might have a motive for doing him harm.

They knocked on a lot of doors, including that of Ruocco, whose former lawyer said he is not a suspect in the case.

“Simply put, there are so many suspects,” a law enforcement official who has been briefed on the investigation said in 2017.

Another law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the case said it quickly became clear that Melius “was connected to everybody” and that the list of potential suspects grew to more than 60 people.

Russian mobsters were caught on tape chuckling about the shooting, according to a law enforcement source, but that lead went nowhere. In the interview with Newsday editors, Melius voiced suspicions about a restaurateur, but nothing has surfaced about that, either.

Melius’ friends and family offered a $100,000 reward and hired a billboard truck, which was briefly parked in a Newsday lot to announce it.

But an official involved in the case said that when questioned, Melius had given leads to detectives that did not prove fruitful.

Melius said he has cooperated fully with police. But he may have hinted at tensions with law enforcement authorities’ handling of the investigation in a comment to Newsday reporters several months after the shooting about the prosecutor heading the investigation, Nancy Clifford. “If I don’t like her, I won’t tell you,” he said.

He blamed the police department and Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota for failing to solve the shooting in the interview with Newsday editors. Spota was indicted last year for allegedly obstructing a federal investigation into the beating of a prisoner by former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke and its cover-up.

“I think the PD screwed up, Tommy Spota screwed up by not putting out the picture of that car,” Melius said, referring to the fact that the Suffolk Police Department released the video two years after the shooting. A spokesman for Spota said last year that it is standard procedure not to release such videos in an ongoing investigation.

The police department declined to respond to requests for comment.

Burke, the police chief who headed the shooting investigation, went to federal prison in 2017 for his assault of a suspect in 2012. Spota, Burke’s longtime mentor, and one of his chief aides were indicted in October 2017, accused of being involved in covering up the assault. Spota retired in November, maintaining his innocence.

The fallout

Since the shooting, FBI agents have carted away boxes of material from Oheka. Melius said the agents had found nothing incriminating. “The FBI came to me and they wanted my stuff and I gave them 180 boxes of stuff,” he said. “And you know how many I had my lawyer look at? None. I have nothing to hide. I gave them everything.”

Melius said his life has fallen apart, as well. He can’t drive because he suffers seizures, and he can no longer enjoy a bourbon or a cigar, he told Newsday editors.

His wry conclusion: “I will never do that again, getting shot in the head.”

Oheka is also hurting. It had a net operating income of $2.38 million in 2014, according to Bloomberg’s financial data. That fell to $1.82 million in 2015 and $742,577 a year later.

In July 2015, Melius’ mortgage company, LNR Property LLC of Miami Beach, noted that Oheka required “substantive repairs” and needed a monthly budget of $72,455 for maintenance.

In December 2015, he stopped making mortgage payments, according to Trepp LLC, a Manhattan property data company. He was hit with a foreclosure lawsuit that continues. As of January, he owed $26 million on Oheka’s two mortgages.

“I am not sitting up there counting bills and money,” he said. “I don’t have it. I’m fighting for my life.”

The long shadow Oheka casts over local politics seems to have grown a little shorter, too. Meetings with party leaders, other than MacKay, have diminished, by many accounts.

Facing tough odds

At times like these, the cozy network of Long Island politics has been Melius’ reliable safety net.

In mid-August, as the battered Mangano administration faced its last months in office, it placed an item on the Nassau Legislature’s agenda that would allow Melius to connect Oheka, which is close to the Nassau-Suffolk border, to Nassau’s sewage system — quite literally the last link needed to fully realize a vision of Oheka he has harbored since 1984.

The hookup would handle a projected 156,000 gallons of wastewater a day from the condos Melius won approval to build in 2012. The proposed agreement called for Melius to pay $425,000 to connect to the Nassau system, as well as $23,000 for a sewer permit.

For a proposed development across the street from Oheka, the figures are strikingly different. It would pay more than twice as much for fewer than half the units and less than a third of the projected wastewater.

When news of the proposal emerged, the item was yanked from the agenda and, in an anti-corruption-themed campaign season, both candidates to succeed Mangano immediately voiced skepticism.

Melius told a reporter in October that he would not comment because the Newsday news article on the sewer hookup had “cost me millions.”

A new leader has taken the helm in Nassau, with Laura Curran, a Democrat, as the new county executive. In Suffolk, upstart Democrat Timothy Sini has taken over the district attorney’s job. They have promised to restore integrity to government.

But in an election season imbued with the drumbeat of reform, there were quieter lessons about the resilience of machine politics. In Suffolk, the Democrat, Errol Toulon Jr., defeated a Republican in the county sheriff’s race with Conservative and Independence Party support, which provided the margin of victory.

Sini won after a similar cross-endorsement deal. Curran celebrated her victory at a news conference in which she stood next to Nassau’s Democratic leader, Jacobs.

Melius, now 73, with many friends fading from the scene or already gone but others holding fast, finds himself again in a place both precarious and familiar — facing seemingly tough odds on the playing field of Long Island politics.

The question is whether the rules of the game have changed, or whether they easily can be.

A politically motivated arrest on a public bus

A sergeant and two plainclothes detectives from the Nassau County Police Department stopped a bus in Hempstead Village on an October evening in 2013 and arrested Randy White as he was traveling to visit his nieces.

White’s apprehension and the incarceration that followed came days after he had given critical courtroom testimony against Andrew Hardwick, an ally of Gary Melius, that threatened to upend the Oheka Castle owner’s effort to sway the pending Nassau County executive race.

White’s testimony so troubled Melius that he telephoned Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale, a friend whom Melius had recommended for the job, to say that Hardwick’s county executive campaign “wanted to file a perjury charge against” the 29-year-old White, according to findings District Attorney Kathleen Rice issued after her office investigated the case.

When Dale’s officers could not find evidence of perjury, they found another justification for apprehending White: an outstanding warrant — one not even entered in the department’s computer system, according to a sergeant involved — issued for White’s failure to pay a fine in a misdemeanor case involving bootleg DVD sales.

Following Melius’ call, police jumped White’s open warrant ahead of 50,000 others. Half were arrest warrants, which involve criminal violations and are supposed to be the department’s priority. Roughly 2,000 were felony warrants. White’s warrant was a bench warrant, typically issued for noncriminal violations like failure to pay traffic tickets. At the time, there were 25,000 open bench warrants in Nassau.

Hardwick was then a long-shot, third-party candidate for Nassau executive. Victory was unlikely, but his fledgling campaign had the potential to draw votes away from the Democratic challenger to Republican Nassau Executive Edward Mangano, a Melius friend and ally.

The political motivation for White’s arrest became all the more apparent when the sergeant served him with a civil subpoena from Hardwick’s attorney while White was in police custody. The campaign of Hardwick, a former Freeport mayor, wanted White back in court to re-examine him. Earlier he had testified that he’d been paid by the signature when collecting petitions for Hardwick, a violation of state election law that could endanger a campaign.

In targeting White, who has a learning disability, Melius acted not against another player in the bruising arena of Long Island politics, but a vulnerable civilian whose sworn court testimony had created a political obstacle. Top Nassau law enforcement leaders, some with personal ties to Melius, led the arrest effort.

Rice’s investigation determined that the incident, while troubling, did not include criminal misconduct warranting prosecution or involve Mangano or those in his administration. Newsday, however, has discovered unreported information that raises new questions about the scandal.

Key police officials at the center of the White matter told Newsday they were interviewed not by Rice’s investigators but by Nassau police internal affairs personnel. They include Dale’s chief of detectives, John Capece, who helped lead the effort to apprehend White. Interviews given to internal affairs investigators are generally criminally inadmissible, meaning Rice’s inquiry was conducted in a way that complicated or even precluded potential prosecutions.

In an interview, Capece told Newsday that he cautioned Dale against arresting White. But Capece said the police commissioner confided that he had no choice, saying that “he was getting pressure from people across the street.” Mangano’s office was across from police headquarters, and Capece said he understood Dale to be referring to the county executive, a Melius ally and the potential beneficiary of the election scheme, and his deputy, Rob Walker.

Dale, Mangano and Walker declined interview requests. They were among several pivotal figures in the White drama who chose not to answer questions from Newsday.

While the scandal led to Dale’s resignation and Capece’s decision to retire rather than be demoted, Melius and many public officials who abetted White’s arrest paid no price, unlike Nassau taxpayers. White, whose father said his son was left “psychologically bent” by the episode, brought a lawsuit against Nassau that alleged an array of civil rights violations and collected a $295,000 legal settlement in 2016.

Bennett Gershman, a Pace Law School professor and former public corruption prosecutor, expressed dismay not only at the actions of Melius and Nassau police, but also at the failure to pursue criminal charges in “a case of rank corruption.”

“You’ve got this power broker who picks up the phone to the chief of police and gets a man yanked off a bus and arrested,” Gershman said. “It’s terrifying.”

Independence Party ties

The White scandal sprang from machinations to keep Mangano in office.

In 2009, Mangano won an upset victory over Nassau Executive Thomas Suozzi by 386 votes out of nearly a quarter-million cast. Plans were made to prevent any such scare in the 2013 rematch. They involved using third-party spoiler candidates to siphon away the votes of environmentalists and African-Americans who would be likely to support Suozzi, a Democrat.

Melius and his wife, Pamela, had donated nearly $18,000 to Mangano during his first term, and Melius had reason to want him re-elected. With Mangano in office, Nassau had inked a real estate deal, legal settlement and contract with Melius worth more than $7 million to the castle owner. The county also tweaked its rules on the use of ignition interlock devices that combat drunken driving, benefiting a company in which Melius had a stake.

Backing Mangano in 2013 after having supported Suozzi in 2009 was the Independence Party, a controversial third party with which Melius and his beloved Oheka Castle had become deeply enmeshed.

In 2008, Melius established an alliance with Frank MacKay, the party’s state and Suffolk County leader. MacKay named Melius his “chief adviser” that year in an effort to take the party national. The designation elevated him in a party whose modest size belies its clout, particularly in judicial races, and that’s described by some in state politics as an elaborate con.

In part, that’s because new voters have mistakenly registered as Independence Party members when they intended to register as independent of any party.

“They don’t stand for a thing,” GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino said of the party’s leadership during his failed 2014 run, “other than jobs for themselves.”

Astorino was expressing a frequent criticism, that the party is effectively a mechanism to exert influence and generate income for its leaders, rather than a standard-bearer for any political ideology. It’s a criticism party leaders reject, but one voiced by editorial boards and good-government advocates across the state.

At the time of the 2013 election, Oheka Castle had become the party’s de facto operations hub, a place to hold fundraisers and interview candidates. MacKay had named Richard Bellando, Melius’ employee, friend and former son-in-law, as the party leader in Nassau. And Oheka had put MacKay on its payroll in various positions.

MacKay declined to be interviewed for this story.

Spoiler candidates

The hand of the Independence Party was evident in two aborted efforts to use third-party candidates to strip votes from Suozzi and to aid Mangano’s re-election.

The first involved 25-year-old Phillipp Negron, who was recruited to run for executive on the Green Party line and had landed a public works job with the Mangano administration just days before his campaign became public. Negron would testify in an election law case involving his campaign that he decided to run after speaking with his stepfather, Timothy Williams, a Mangano appointee and chairman of the Nassau Industrial Development Agency. After the talk, he said, a woman brought a Green Party registration form to his home.

Negron testified that he and his stepfather next met a man at a diner who brought paperwork to sign. “When I registered to be a Green Party member, I expressed my interest in running,” Negron said. “Next thing I know, I’ve been nominated.”

The man he and his stepfather met at the diner was Brian Nevin, Mangano’s former chief spokesman and manager of his re-election campaign, Negron testified. The bulk of the petition signatures Negron needed to get on the ballot would be collected by Nevin and other Republicans working for Mangano, court records would establish.

Robert Pilnick, an Independence Party officer, was also among the handful of political operators who collected signatures, county election records show.

Democrats challenged Negron’s petitions in court, alleging that the campaign was a “fraud” and that some signatures were from reluctant Oheka Castle employees. After two days of testimony, Negron withdrew from the race.

Invalid signatures

The Independence Party’s attorney was involved in the second effort, which featured Hardwick, who tried to run as a candidate for the new “We Count” Party.

After a tumultuous term as Freeport mayor — during which he backed $4.4 million in settlements for Melius in cases involving his troubled Water Works property — Hardwick had lost a re-election bid.

Hardwick’s party was a creation of Melius and his allies. Between July 2013 and the November election, records show Melius, his family and one of his businesses gave We Count $38,839, more than 80 percent of the party’s total.

Because Hardwick is black, many people in Nassau politics saw his candidacy as an effort to siphon African-American votes from Suozzi. The candidate, however, insisted that his run was a stand for the middle class and against corruption.

“People are sick and tired of the same old lies and deceit,” Hardwick said in a campaign video.

After Nassau Democrats challenged Hardwick’s petitions in state court, state Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow barred him from the ballot, declaring that his petition effort had been “permeated with fraudulent practices” of which Hardwick had “knowledge.”

While the case was in court that October, the board of elections found 2,700 of Hardwick’s 8,400 nominating signatures invalid. It was suspected that thousands more were outright forgeries, but Winslow, with the consent of both parties, ceased his review after identifying more than 100 such bogus signatures.

Asked to identify his largest campaign donor, Hardwick replied under oath, “I don’t know.”

At the time Hardwick testified, Melius was his sole donor. His campaign treasurer was an Oheka employee, and a campaign worker testified that she had delivered nominating petitions to Hardwick at Oheka. Independence Party attorney Vincent Messina, whose firm collected $16,000 from We Count’s largely Melius-funded treasury, represented Hardwick in court.

Hardwick declined interview requests.

A call to the commissioner

Randy White emerged as a key witness in the Hardwick case.

As a teenager, White had compiled a criminal record, including convictions for attempted robbery and felony drug possession. Through his 20s, however, White stayed out of legal trouble, save for an occasional misdemeanor violation for selling bootleg DVDs.

He lived at home with his father, Rassan Hoskins, a Nassau Democratic Party committeeman, and struggled to find work. When Hardwick operatives asked White to collect signatures to get Hardwick on the ballot, White agreed.

“Randy naturally wanted to make some money,” Hoskins said. “But I told Randy, ‘Man, you can’t work for Hardwick, I am a Democrat.’ ”

Hoskins said his son “is not sophisticated enough” to always recognize when he’s being used and can be truthful even when doing so could cause him grief. Under questioning in the Hardwick case, White testified that he’d been paid by the signature, which is prohibited by state election law in part because it’s thought to incentivize fraud.

Two days later, on Oct. 4, Hardwick’s attorney Messina unsuccessfully attempted to introduce a telephone call recorded by campaign operatives in which it was alleged White contradicted his damaging testimony.

Within hours, according to findings that District Attorney Rice released six weeks later, Melius called Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale, whom he had recommended Mangano appoint, and said Hardwick’s campaign “wanted to file a perjury charge against” White.

Dale sent some of his top people, a department attorney and Capece, the chief of detectives, to the First Precinct in Baldwin, according to the Rice findings. There they met with Hardwick campaign operatives and Messina, the candidate’s attorney who also represented the Independence Party, to discuss the perjury charge. The recorded phone call turned out to be inaudible, Capece said in an interview, and he told Dale that he would not arrest White for perjury.

Police soon found other grounds, however.

Sal Mistretta, then an Oheka regular and a Nassau police sergeant who led the pistol license division, played a central role in the scandal. At the time, Mistretta was backing Mangano’s re-election. He gave $500 to the incumbent on Oct. 18 and was listed as a contact on a flyer for an Oct. 28 Mangano fundraiser.

In a recent interview, Mistretta said that he checked the department’s electronic warrant system on the day of the First Precinct meeting and found no hits for White. Nonetheless, he said, an outstanding warrant was located, presumably in court filings, and faxed to the precinct after 5 p.m.

The warrant involved White’s failure to pay a $175 misdemeanor fine, $25 victim assistance fee and $50 DNA databank fee levied in a bootleg DVD case in which White was sentenced to 14 hours of community service after he pleaded guilty. All guilty verdicts in New York State require the levying of such fees.

The warrant had been issued on Aug. 26, almost six weeks before the meeting at the First Precinct, and until that moment it had apparently not been an urgent matter. Between the day it was issued and the First Precinct meeting, White had appeared in court several times and spent 10 days in jail on another DVD case, but he had not been picked up on the warrant.

When news of the warrant reached Dale, he ordered White located and arrested, despite what Capece said were his cautions to the commissioner.

Using information from an individual Dale would later describe to investigators as a “confidential source” who appears to have tracked White, he was located the following evening. A sergeant and two detectives handcuffed White on the public bus and took him to the First Precinct, where he was given a strip and cavity search, according to his federal civil rights complaint.

White was then taken to police headquarters, where Mistretta served him a civil subpoena drafted by Messina, the Independence Party’s attorney, who was representing Hardwick.

The subpoena ordered White to appear in court the following Monday so that he could be questioned about his prior testimony. Mistretta said he’d been given the subpoena by Brandon Irizarry, who worked on the Mangano and Hardwick campaigns. Though not a police officer, Irizarry mixed regularly with Melius and his many law enforcement guests at Oheka. Mistretta would later insist that he did not know that what he’d passed along was a subpoena.

Police next took White to the county jail, where, his federal complaint states, he was again subject to strip and cavity search. A judge released him the next day.

In comments to Newsday shortly after he left jail, White said he felt fearful and perhaps a bit paranoid. “It’s got me scared to go outside my house,” he said, “because I don’t know if the police think I got Andrew kicked off the ballot.”

Link to prosecutor’s office

Rice, who is now a congresswoman, began her investigation shortly after details of White’s arrest became public and would convey her findings to Mangano by letter, assuring the county executive that it was “appropriate to note our investigation has uncovered nothing to suggest that you or members of your administration were involved in the case against Mr. White.”

Chuck Ribando, Rice’s chief public corruption investigator whom Mangano would hire the following year as his deputy for public safety, helped lead the White inquiry.

By Melius’ own account, Ribando had been a frequent guest at Oheka and the two men enjoyed a friendship that went back years.

In 2009, Freeport Village Attorney Howard Colton alleged that Melius was using Ribando to bully him. Melius was engaged in an effort that eventually succeeded to settle a lawsuit he’d brought against the village involving his Water Works property.

Colton went to village police to complain that Melius had corrupted the district attorney’s office and was using Ribando and the threat of getting Colton indicted to secure a settlement. At one point, Colton told police, he met and was questioned by Ribando after Melius told him to seek out the investigator before the district attorney’s office came to “get” him.

Ribando declined repeated requests for comment.

In 2012, when Ribando’s daughter’s wedding reception took place at Oheka, an overnight affair that saw all rooms booked, Melius said in an interview that he had charged a discount and suggested that may have been because he’d been unable to line up any other event for the date in question. Mistretta and others who frequented Oheka said Ribando regularly attended the cigar parties Melius held at the castle and enjoyed Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch.

On Election Day in November 2013, as the Rice inquiry was underway, Melius sent Ribando a get-out-the-vote email that Newsday obtained through a records request. “Just a reminder to vote today,” Melius wrote. “Please consider voting Row E, the Independence Line — where you will find the best of all parties.” A November 2013 ballot showed Mangano and Rice were among dozens of candidates featured on the Independence Line.

Internal affairs involvement

Rice’s letter announcing the results of the inquiry was released on Dec. 12, 2013. She concluded there was no evidence of criminal misconduct by police brass.

While the case had “obvious political overtones” and Dale’s decision to involve himself was “a judgment potentially fraught with peril,” Rice found that “the department’s decision to target the subject of an open warrant was not a violation of criminal law.”

However, Rice noted that her office would continue to investigate White’s having been served with a civil subpoena by the Hardwick campaign while he was in police custody, which she called “a deeply troubling aspect of this case.”

“My office conducted a thorough investigation into these serious allegations,” she wrote.

Yet Mistretta and Capece, two lawmen central to the scandal, said in interviews that Rice’s investigators never spoke to them. Mistretta was the sergeant who delivered the Hardwick campaign’s subpoena to White while he was in police custody — the aspect of the case that Rice described as “deeply troubling” and “still under investigation by this office.” Capece, the former chief of detectives, had helped to carry out Dale’s arrest order. Mistretta said he knew of no others involved who were interviewed by the district attorney’s investigators.

After being told that Mistretta and Capece said they never spoke to any investigator from her office, Rice’s spokesman Coleman Lamb said by email that in fact the Nassau police Internal Affairs Unit had “conducted this investigation” with “oversight” from the district attorney’s office. Though Lamb said that was “standard” practice in such cases, the approach would require extraordinary steps to preserve prosecutors’ ability to bring criminal charges.

That’s because internal affairs units focus on violations of department rules and their investigators can use the threat of workplace sanction to compel interviews. Prosecutors, however, must honor the rights of individuals not to incriminate themselves and may not use such interviews to bring criminal charges.

In her letter, Rice, who declined to be interviewed for this story, stated that her office had reviewed “compelled departmental interviews” as part of its “consideration of potential criminal charges.”

“She should not have received any compelled interviews,” said Jeff Noble, a former Irvine, California, deputy police chief and now a law enforcement consultant who has written extensively on the issue of cooperation between prosecutors and Internal Affairs Unit investigators. “She could not use those interviews in any prosecution and the receipt of the interviews may have tainted her office from being able to conduct an investigation if there was independent evidence of a crime.”

Any valid criminal investigation, he said, would have required Rice to establish a “clean team” of prosecutors, none of whose members had seen the compelled interviews.

Asked how Rice expected to investigate potential crimes using internal affairs investigators, Lamb wrote “that’s a more detailed question than we can handle without having access to case files, notes and personnel at the DA’s Office.”

Lamb referred a reporter to the office of District Attorney Madeline Singas, who succeeded Rice in 2015. A spokesman for Singas recently declined to provide details of the investigation.

In response to a public records request Newsday made to the district attorney’s office, Singas provided portions of the White case file in early 2017, withholding some portions so as not “to reveal confidential information relating to a criminal investigation” and to avoid “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Newsday received White’s five-page notice of claim against the county in the civil lawsuit that resulted in his $295,000 settlement, 50 pages of related case law research and news stories, Rice’s letter of December 2013 and a two-sentence “final agency determination” from 2015 that found White’s in-custody subpoena service did not “warrant a criminal prosecution.” Newsday has asked Singas’ office how it was able to close that investigation without having interviewed Mistretta, the man who delivered the subpoena, but has gotten no answer.

The only other record the office provided in response to the records request was an email from White’s attorney to a prosecutor sent shortly after his client’s arrest that pointed out tens of thousands of warrants were then open.

Commissioner, chief of detectives out

On Dec. 9, 2013, three days before Rice issued her letter, Dale contacted Capece while he was vacationing in Florida and told him he had to come back to Long Island to be interviewed by internal affairs, Capece said. At the time, Dale was himself presumably a focus for investigators.

Capece said Dale told him not to worry because “directly from Kathleen Rice” he’d gotten everything “smoothed out” in regard to her soon-to-be-released letter.

Rice’s spokesman Lamb denied that such a conversation with Dale took place. “Is there any evidence at all to suggest it did,” Lamb wrote, “other than Mr. Capece claiming that he heard it second hand from Mr. Dale?”

The day Rice produced her letter, Dale resigned, under pressure from Mangano.

In an interview the following year, Melius called Dale’s ouster “the worst thing in my life.”

“It was worse than getting shot for me,” he said, adding that despite Justice Winslow’s decision to the contrary, he believed White had “perjured himself.”

The same day the Rice letter was released, Capece said, Mangano called him on speakerphone, saying he had “tragic news.” Mangano told him that he was at fault for the White debacle, Capece said, and that he had a choice: retire or be demoted to sergeant.

When Capece responded by saying he needed time to make such a decision, he said, Mangano deputy Rob Walker told him, “You have 15 minutes to make up your mind.” Walker also demanded to know whether he knew that he was obligated to refuse when asked to make an illegal arrest, Capece said.

He chose to leave the department.

“I don’t want to work for these people,” Capece said he remembers thinking.

The failure to bring criminal charges angered Nassau Democratic Party leader Jay Jacobs, who once backed Hardwick in a Freeport mayoral race and recruited Rice to run for district attorney in 2004. Jacobs said he was dismayed by Rice’s decision and aghast at the White affair, calling it “blatant witness intimidation.”

Jacobs is not alone in characterizing the episode as criminal. Gershman, the Pace Law School professor and former public corruption prosecutor, reviewed news reports that detailed the episode and said if the case had arrived on his desk, he’d have immediately empaneled a grand jury.

“This is just so outrageous,” Gershman said. “Do you have a conspiracy to violate White’s civil rights? Of course you do. Do you have official corruption? Of course you do. You have a lot of crimes here.”