Pathway to Power Chapter Select

Casino flop: Struggling outside LI’s cozy network

Gary Melius ventures from his LI power base but faces challenges

Gary Melius has been rooted in Long Island in almost every way.

He grew up in a modest tract house in West Hempstead and lives in a castle in Huntington. He was mixed up early in criminal activity in Nassau County but came to befriend police leaders in both counties, as well as FBI agents and cops from many local departments.

He became a multimillionaire here, has easily given more than $4 million to scores of local charities and politicians himself and with his family members, businesses, employees and foundation, and became a friend of judges, mayors and county executives.

Yet, in the mid-’90s, he could be found scrambling on an often iced-over Indian reservation a 400-mile drive away, clinging to the dream of making millions through a tribal casino as he faced challenges from federal regulators, a canny gaming mogul and Mohawks who felt deceived by him.

His quest was the culmination of a decade of bankruptcy and a panorama of business misfortunes. Those ventures often occurred when he was distanced from his Long Island political network.

When Melius operated on the political playing fields of Long Island, he most often thrived. Off them, he usually fumbled, begging the question: What accounts for the difference?

For Melius, the decade included five business-related bankruptcies; more than $20 million in debt to creditors who had to settle for as little as 5 cents on the dollar; hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid gambling bills, mostly at Donald Trump’s casinos; an investigation by a federal commission that forced him to sell his 50 percent share in a company seeking to run a casino on an upstate Indian reservation; and an accusation by a major bank that he was fronting for organized crime figures.

A string of bankruptcies

His real estate meltdowns stemmed in good part from the 1986 tax reforms signed by President Ronald Reagan. With the elimination of tax shelters that propped up commercial real estate, Long Island’s property market skidded just as the stock market experienced a historic crash.

At one point, Melius said in an interview, he was “rolling quarters” just to pay bills.

The bankruptcies enveloped many of his greatest successes, starting with his first at 300 Old Country Rd. in Mineola, where he had run a small contracting company in a run-down building owned by his lawyer and mentor, Richard Hartman.

Melius bought the place, replaced it with a commercial condo complex, and put units on the market at prices that would have had the potential to yield about $17 million.

Then, in 1990, he was seeking protection from a $7.1 million foreclosure on the property.

The bankruptcies also covered properties in Uniondale, Carle Place and Lemont, Illinois, outside Chicago, voluminous bankruptcy records show. Among the casinos chasing Melius for more than $250,000 were Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza Hotel, Trump Taj Mahal Casino, the Showboat Casino and another in the Bahamas, according to an investigative memorandum by the staff of the National Indian Gaming Commission.

The Bank of New York, which was trying to recoup money from Melius on a troubled mortgage, said it had looked into his assets and then accused him of being involved with members of organized crime. Melius’ lawyer adamantly denied the allegation. Melius’ early criminal record included a bust for stealing Cadillacs for an organized crime ring, according to court testimony.

Assertions and, in some cases, instances of mob involvement by politicians and real estate operators have laced a half-century of Long Island history.

Among the controversies confronted by Melius’ great ally, Alfonse D’Amato, were several involving organized crime figures.

As a U.S. senator, he unsuccessfully sought favorable treatment from federal prosecutors for Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino crime family, and Mario Gigante, the brother of the boss of the Genovese crime family, Vincent “Chin” Gigante. D’Amato insisted he was simply providing the same constituent service he would for any New Yorker.

Alphonso D’Arco, former boss of the Lucchese crime family who turned government witness, alleged that Mafia figures “had contact” with D’Amato, according to an internal 1992 FBI memo. The memo said D’Arco named five individuals, including Phil Basile, who owned the Island Park club where D’Amato celebrated his 1980 Senate victory, but did not specify how often the contacts purportedly took place or over what. These assertions did not lead to any charges against D’Amato, who over the years has adamantly denied any association with the mob.

Melius faced similar allegations. They came to light through his own doing, after he defaulted on a $1.8 million loan involving a building on West 58th Street in Manhattan.

The job of recovering the loan fell to Gabriela Cacuci, a lawyer representing the bank who is now a senior New York City corporation counsel.

In his complaint filed in 1996, Melius’ lawyer, Richard Lane, wrote that Cacuci met with him and said that the bank had obtained information that accused his client of “fronting for the Gambino crime family.”

The court documents do not provide details of the allegation.

Lane’s complaint contends that Cacuci said Melius was “allegedly connected” with several unnamed organized crime figures who were still alive and two notorious mobsters who were dead — Roy DeMeo and Tommy Agro. The complaint did not specify how.

Before being murdered in 1983, DeMeo was widely regarded as a vicious killer, with a reputation for dismembering victims behind a Brooklyn bar he owned called The Gemini. In his definitive mob history “Five Families,” the author Selwyn Raab described DeMeo as the Gambino family’s “most feared hitman,” according to federal and city authorities. Agro was a bookmaker and violent Gambino soldier who eventually pleaded guilty to extortion and loan sharking.

In a Newsday interview, Melius was asked directly about the allegations in the lawsuit. Denying any mob involvement, he said, “I don’t know where that comes from.” In court papers, Lane called the assertions “malicious” and “without merit.”

Melius said in his lawsuit that the bank had threatened that if he did not pay up, it would lay out the allegations during court proceedings, which would have made them public.

At one point, Cacuci said in an interview, she received a phone call at her office from a man who identified himself only as “Gary’s lieutenant.” He warned her to leave Melius alone.

“The message was clear,” she said. “Stop pushing. Stop looking for assets.”

A settlement with the bank required him to pay $510,000 to satisfy the debt, and in return the bank agreed to keep confidential its findings “regarding Melius’ assets, sources of cash flow and business dealings and associates,” according to court documents.

That closed the chapter until the lid of confidentiality was lifted by Melius himself, when he filed a multimillion-dollar suit against the bank after being annoyed by erroneous past-due notices he received after the settlement.

In delineating the hardship he said he faced, Melius listed what he said the bank had asserted about his relationship with the Gambinos. That put it in the court record, unnoticed for two decades until discovered by Newsday.

Melius said in an interview that he did not remember anything about his dispute with the bank. But he explained why he would retaliate against the bank, even if it meant outing allegations against him.

“If you mess with me, I will sue you,” Melius said.

The case ended by mutual agreement in 1997, soon after a judge dismissed all but one of Melius’ claims, court records show.

The bank wasn’t alone in drawing Melius’ ire. In more than 225 state and federal lawsuits over the years, he revealed himself at times to be impetuous and belligerent.

He sued his dry cleaner over $700 he said he left in his pants pocket (an arbitrator ruled that Melius couldn’t prove that someone had removed the cash from his pants). He interrupted a deposition over a leased Mercedes to call a car salesman a “turd” and a “low life.” In the deposition, the salesman described a phone call from Melius this way: “more abuse, more foul language, more threatening me and my boss.”

In another lawsuit years later, Melius confronted Matthew Dollinger, an attorney for the developer Wilbur Breslin.

“You think you are a tough guy, Matthew?” Melius said during a deposition. “You are not a tough guy.”

Melius then used a gay slur, adding, “How’s that for an insult? A fat one.”

To those who know him — even friends — Melius’ abrasiveness is no surprise.

“I figured he’s got a lot of friends, but he’s got a lot of enemies,” said an old friend, John Nasseff, a former executive and major stockholder of West, the legal publishing company. “He sticks his nose in everything and he steps on a couple of toes.”

Then, cryptically and without elaboration, he added: “And that’s why they’ve tried to do him in a couple of times.”

Various partners, ventures

Melius had a penchant for linking up with questionable business partners, often in quixotic ventures.

Rather than team with Hartman and other insiders as he had on previous real estate ventures, he went outside the loop for a partner on two deals at Mitchel Field, where Nassau County leased properties to politically connected developers in giveaway deals.

His partner, Greg Hasho, was a branch manager for an out-of-control penny stock brokerage referred to in Newsday as “The Wild Bunch” and was married to the niece of Times Square porn czar Matthew “Matty the Horse” Ianniello, who later became acting boss of the Genovese crime family. The partnership faltered after the federal Securities and Exchange Commission accused the brokerage of bilking clients of $1.4 million. In the aftermath, Hasho declared bankruptcy and his partnership with Melius faltered.

Three years later, the SEC barred Hasho from any management or ownership role with a securities firm.

Melius worked, too, with Paolo Gucci, who had been banished from the famous luxury brand family after he helped send his father to prison for tax evasion. Melius’ hopes of helping him build his own fashion brand ended when Gucci, who was jailed for failing to pay child support and alimony, died bankrupt in 1995.

Chet Forte, the original director of “Monday Night Football,” was another star-crossed partner. Melius was among several investors in a proposed basketball TV show to be produced by Forte that collapsed.

According to a court filing, when television producers Peter Perrotta and Louis LaRose Jr. arrived at Oheka for a meeting on the project, they were met by men armed with guns and accompanied by pit bull guard dogs. They said they were surprised to find Melius in a poker game with Forte, who, it turned out, was a ruinously compulsive gambler.

Melius won back his $130,000 investment from Forte in court.

Melius also tried his hand at boxing management, joining with a former nightclub singer, Joe Allegro, to manage a trio that included Trevor Berbick, who years earlier had defeated Muhammad Ali in Ali’s last fight. They set up another of their fighters, Michael Olajide, a middleweight with a chronic vision problem in his right eye, in a super middleweight championship bout against Tommy “Hitman” Hearns, the champion who was known as pound-for-pound the hardest puncher in the sport.

“I remember that first really hard jab that he threw — bam!” Olajide said in an interview. “He hit me in the eye, and I just remember at that point not being able to see anything coming from one side.” After losing the fight, he spent more than a year fighting in court with Melius and his partner for his share of the purse before he was paid, court records show.

And then there was an investment Melius and his partner, Allegro, made in “Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders,” a sequel to the somewhat successful sexploitation epic “Flesh Gordon.”

Even Playboy hated it. More to the point, Allegro said in an interview, “We certainly didn’t make any money on it.”

A new focus: tribal gambling

By Melius’ own admission, an awful lot wasn’t going his way in the ’90s.

“I think other than real estate, and I have a whole list of things that I lost my money in, every single one of them,” he said in a Newsday interview.

So he headed north, to the desolate upstate Akwesasne Indian reservation spanning the Canadian border, where, far from any city with a substantial customer base, he saw promise in tribal gambling.

The reservation is home to the St. Regis Mohawks and has a fraught history marked both by illicit trafficking in cigarettes, liquor and arms, and divisions over gambling so intense that two tribe members were killed in a gunfight.

“The real estate market has gone bad,” Melius explained to a Syracuse reporter in October 1995. “I had my trouble in it. Let me see if there’s opportunity here.”

Melius became interested in gambling on Native American reservations around the time Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, providing a legal framework for tribal casinos.

At Oheka the effects were visible. Local power brokers were joined by a new set that included Michael Haney, a leader of the American Indian Movement that besieged Wounded Knee; William Kunstler, the famed left-wing attorney who represented both tribes and individual Native Americans; and Moonface Bear, who would lead Connecticut’s Golden Hill Paugussetts in an armed uprising in the early 1990s.

Melius formed companies with names like Native American Management Corp. and Nassau County Native Americans Inc., founded to “promote Native American development and secure their historical lands,” according to planning documents reviewed by Newsday.

According to business documents and Native Americans who said he discussed his plans with them, Melius was unsuccessful in efforts to develop casinos or otherwise do business with the Shinnecock on Long Island, the Seminole in Florida, the Kickapoo in Oklahoma and the Schaghticoke in Connecticut. He was involved in failed efforts to get recognition for tiny tribes, including the Poospatuck, then consisting of 95 people living near Mastic.

But he arrived at windswept Akwesasne with scant competition and the financial muscle and respectability of his partner, Ivan Kaufman, head of the publicly traded Arbor Commercial Mortgage Trust, who has lent Melius more than $50 million over the years through his privately held companies.

The two formed President R.C.-St. Regis Management Co., based in Arbor’s Uniondale offices, and sought authorization from the Mohawks to build and operate the reservation’s first legal casino in exchange for a percentage of the profits. A confident Melius told tribe members that the casino would employ 800 people and Kaufman predicted annual revenues of $100 million.

To succeed, the company had to win over the tribe’s troika of chiefs. Here, Melius hired a “consultant” named John Borrello, an ex-convict from Queens who was half-Mohawk, and who two former mobsters told Newsday was coveted by the Gambino family as a conduit to the tribal casino business — exactly what Melius hired him to be.

Nicknamed “Mohawk John,” Borrello had done time for burglarizing a gas station and fencing stolen cars in the mid- to late 1980s. By his account and those in court and law enforcement records, his son, “Johnnie Boy” Borrello, was a Gambino crime family associate murdered in a mob rubout. According to Michael “Mikey Scars” DiLeonardo, a former Gambino capo, and John Alite, a former mob associate, who have both become federal witnesses, the Gambinos had tried to protect the younger Borrello to cultivate his father.

Alite, who was convicted of attempting to murder Johnnie Boy’s killer, explained in an interview: “The Gambinos was going to make good money with the father. They’re telling me that we’re going to do whatever to help the kid because we want the father.”

Borrello said he knew nothing about any designs the Gambinos might have had in a casino involving him. “I work seven days a week, I don’t really know nobody, they murdered my son, and I’m not on the street,” he said in an interview.

Melius would pay him at least $580,000 over the next six years, according to records filed in federal court, and Borrello recalled receiving other perks, too. He said they included a private plane trip to Akwesasne on which he played poker with Melius, Paolo Gucci and D’Amato, who was dropped off en route for what Borrello described as a “meeting with the power authority.”

Seeking a tribal pact

Valerie Curotte, Borrello’s cousin, said that during an early meeting about the casino, at Melius’ Long Island office, Melius discussed with her the plans he and Borrello were making. Melius stressed that his associate’s role had to be kept quiet.

“He says to John, ‘You’ve got a record longer than my arm,’ ” Curotte recalled in an interview. “You can’t really be on no paperwork.”

Borrello also introduced Melius to another cousin, Anthony Laughing, described in court documents and by his own account as the boss of all things political and criminal on the reservation.

Laughing made millions smuggling cigarettes to Canada, according to court records and by his own admission. He poured the profits into what he has said was Akwesasne’s first full-scale — albeit illegal — casino in 1988, Tony’s Vegas International.

Convicted on federal gambling charges, he spent time in prison and, according to an FBI surveillance report, returned to the cavernous casino in gold and diamond jewelry and alligator boots while federal agents conducted surveillance.

“He was the Godfather up there,” said retired FBI agent John McEligot, who spent years investigating Laughing. “He was his own mafia on the reservation.”

In an interview with Newsday shortly before his death at 69 in October 2016, Laughing recalled Melius hosting him at Oheka, plying him with fancy dinners and Knicks playoffs tickets, and introducing him to D’Amato at a Long Island law office.

The reason was obvious to him: Three chiefs decided practically everything on the reservation by majority, and Laughing said two, L. David Jacobs and John Loran, answered to him.

“I don’t know how to say this but I’ll just come right out and say it,” Laughing said. “I controlled the two chiefs back then.”

Ever affable and energetic, Melius worked a rotating cast of chiefs, who faced election every three years.

“He was a busy little fella,” said Jacobs, who visited Melius at Oheka. “He certainly was very generous, loaning his airplane to everybody and giving everybody dinners.”

In the end, Jacobs and Loran — the chiefs Laughing claimed to control — outvoted their counterpart, Phil Tarbell, and pushed through a tribal compact giving Melius and Kaufman’s company management rights. Jacobs and Loran insisted in interviews that they had acted on their own and were not beholden to Laughing.

Gaming commission investigates

Now, another challenge loomed: approval of a contract to manage the casino from the National Indian Gaming Commission, the federal agency established by Congress to keep “organized crime and other corrupting influences” from the nascent industry.

Melius submitted more than 200 supporting letters from police chiefs, politicians, clergymen and even former President Jimmy Carter, according to a court document his attorney filed. Besides Carter, the document did not name the other supporters and the commission refused to provide Newsday the letters.

But they were overshadowed by the commission’s staff investigation, summed up in a 20-page memorandum completed in May 1996.

It recommended that Melius be found unfit for casino management, determining that his “reputation, habits and associations pose a threat to the public interest or to the effective regulation and control of gaming.”

The memorandum cited his repeated failure to provide detailed financial information regarding his casino-related companies, as well as inconsistencies between his and his wife’s income declarations. In addition, his $29 million estimate of personal assets, investigators determined, was largely based on his valuation of a bankrupt company; under a reorganization plan, they said, unsecured creditors were to receive 5 percent of their claims.

In a compilation of his financial and criminal problems, it detailed 15 state tax liens totaling almost $470,000, as well as an IRS lien of nearly $200,000 that remained unsatisfied until the commission investigation began. The memorandum cited five corporate bankruptcies.

The gaming commission investigators also noted that among dozens of judgments against Melius, several stemmed from debts to casinos.

Then there was his early criminal record. The memorandum listed five arrests on a federal background check, including his vacated felony conviction:

In June 1962, Melius was charged with petty larceny in a case involving the theft of tires with a teenage friend. There is no record of the disposition.

In June 1963, he was charged with robbery in the mugging of a hitchhiker and pleaded guilty a half-year later to felony attempted second-degree grand larceny and was given a suspended prison sentence of up to 5 years. Six years later, while on probation, Melius’ conviction was vacated under a youthful offender law.

On Sept. 14, 1971, he was charged with grand larceny in the extortion of an undercover cop who posed as having illegal drugs in her car. He pleaded guilty and was later sentenced to 3 years of probation and fined $1,000.

On Sept. 30, 1971, he was charged with third-degree conspiracy and first-degree criminal possession of stolen property for his alleged role in a car and heavy equipment theft ring. Melius pleaded guilty to third-degree conspiracy and was fined $500.

In October 1971, he was arrested for second-degree grand larceny for unknown reasons and the charge was dismissed.

In a letter to a tribal chief a few months after receipt of the memorandum, commission chairman Harold Monteau stated that the contract to manage the casino would not be approved unless Melius was removed from the management group. Monteau also said that the management contract would not be approved if Melius were engaged as a consultant.

After papers were drawn showing Melius selling his interest to Kaufman for $5 million, the commission approved the company’s contract with the tribe. Kaufman declined to be interviewed.

Melius maintains a role

Although the chairman’s decision might have marked an end to Melius’ reservation foray, it did not.

He never left the Akwesasne reservation. Kaufman awarded a $14 million contract to build the casino to the Anderson-Blake Construction Corp. Melius owned the company.

The tribe contended in a 2002 lawsuit that Kaufman had failed to get the gaming commission’s approval for Melius to build the casino. The Mohawks were seeking to have the construction contract voided.

Kaufman and Melius responded that tribal leaders had clearly been aware of Melius’ role in constructing the casino. They also said in legal filings that Kaufman had not been required to get permission from the Indian gaming commission to award the contract to Melius’ company — a position that was eventually confirmed by the commission’s top lawyer, who stated in a letter in 2004 that the construction contract had not required the commission chairman’s approval.

The Mohawks also argued in their lawsuit that Melius had been enmeshed in many details of the casino’s operation. They produced documents showing that Melius was often consulted on the casino’s operations by President-R.C. St. Regis executives and that a former state trooper was his personal eyes and ears.

Records showed that Melius had exchanged memos and faxes with consultants and Arbor employees about marketing strategy, security, budget and other casino matters. Walter Horn, an Arbor attorney who served as St. Regis’ general counsel and senior vice president, asked Melius for comment on a loan document between the tribe and President, for example. Horn also faxed Melius internal memos about casino marketing. John Natalone, an Arbor executive, sent Melius financial forecasts.

In an October 1998 letter filed in court, Melius sent congratulations to Al Crary, a retired State Police captain, writing that when the casino opened, “you will be hired as their Security Consultant at a salary of $50,000 per year.”

Other records show that Crary sent Melius notes marked “FOR GARY EYES ONLY,” on topics ranging from observations about the ATM dollar limits to well-sourced intelligence. “The Indians north of the border are well armed and the Mohawks are the strongest of the lot,” he wrote in an undated memo. “My informants tell me of no discernible pattern of action against the casino,” although he added that he was concerned “that you do everything you can in a defensive mode.”

In an interview, Crary said he had not been hired by Melius or anyone else at the casino. Of Melius, he said, he would “just try to fill him in on what was going on.”

Melius did not dispute his ownership of the construction company but said in interviews and depositions that he had not been involved in either managing the casino or working as a consultant, which the gaming commission had also made clear it would not approve him to do.

“I was never involved with the day-to-day running of the operation,” he said in a 2014 Newsday interview.

A federal judge ultimately dismissed the tribe’s lawsuit, ruling that Kaufman had not been required to get permission from the gaming commission to hire Melius’ construction company. Federal oversight over a casino on an Indian reservation only involves its management, the judge said. It was the only issue before him.

The tribe’s lawsuit was one of several over Melius’ interactions with the tribe and the gaming commission, including a suit filed by Kaufman and Melius against the Mohawks. Melius also sued the commission at one point over the information in the staff’s memorandum, the one that recommended he be found unfit to manage the Akwesasne casino.

Melius’ suit was eventually dismissed, though it is not clear whether there was a settlement. But in a letter to Melius in June 2001, Montie Deer, who was then chairman of the commission, said the agency had “never made a determination of your suitability to participate in a management contract” to operate the Akwesasne casino.

The commission, Deer wrote, “has not taken action approving or disapproving a management contract to which you were a party.”

That was accurate, though the context was not explained in the letter. Harold Monteau, who was the commission chairman in 1996, wrote a letter in which he said he would disapprove the tribe’s proposed contract with the company created by Melius and Kaufman because of the commission’s concerns about Melius’ suitability to manage a casino.

If someone were to buy out Melius’ share in the company, Monteau indicated, he would be open to moving forward, provided that Melius retained no financial interest in the management.

The casino opened in 1999, an instant financial flop. The mostly tribal staff was slashed. After a year, former Chief Alma Ransom said in a deposition, Kaufman told her losses sometimes reached $1 million a month.

Kaufman’s relationship with the Mohawks nose-dived. Tribal leaders accused him and his management team of hiring untrained and uncertified staff at the casino, providing inaccurate revenue reporting and offering jackpots that were awarded by mistake.

“They knew nothing about how to run a casino, and that’s why they were running into the problems,” then-Chief Paul Thompson remarked in a 2002 deposition.

By early 2000, Kaufman and others had sunk about $30 million into Akwesasne and received “a zero return,” Horn, the casino company’s senior vice president, testified.

A Catskills venture

The stories of Gary Melius’ life seldom end simply. This one certainly didn’t. It even featured a cameo by Trump.

For help, Melius turned to D’Amato, who introduced him to the country’s most successful casino operator, a high-rolling New Jersey businessman named Arthur Goldberg. Goldberg had little use for the Akwesasne operation, but he wanted to team with the tribe on another plan it was involved in: a half-billion-dollar proposal in the Catskills for the closest casino to New York City.

With a supporting affidavit from D’Amato, Melius said in a lawsuit that Goldberg had offered to pay him $15 million and bail out Kaufman if they persuaded the Mohawks to install his company as their new manager at Akwesasne and open the way to a Catskills partnership.

But as Kaufman and Melius went to work, court records establish, they were being played. Tribal leaders testified that Goldberg told them Melius had deceived federal authorities about his continued project involvement, cheated on construction costs, siphoned away money that should have been paid to contractors, and bragged about having the tribal council in his pocket.

“We were being burnt big time, and we found out this place can make money,” Ransom, then a chief, recalled in a deposition.

Before long, the tribe threw out Kaufman’s management company and teamed in the Catskills with Goldberg, who did not pay Melius or Kaufman a dime.

There the Mohawks ran into Trump, who feared their plan would damage his Atlantic City businesses.

Soon local newspaper ads attributed to an anti-gambling group in upstate Rome cautioned, “How much do you really know about the St. Regis Mohawk Indians?”

Another ad predicted Indian gambling would bring “increased crime, broken families, bankruptcies, and, in the case of the Mohawks, violence.”

In the end, nobody fared too well.

Goldberg died unexpectedly and his Catskills casino was never built. A state investigation found that Trump had secretly financed the newspaper ads and he was fined $250,000 in 2000 for violating lobbying laws. More critically, his Atlantic City casinos went bankrupt over the next decade, even without Catskills competition.

The two chiefs who originally backed Kaufman and Melius’ management were convicted on unrelated charges stemming from huge illicit smuggling operations. The one who didn’t was convicted of stealing equipment from the tribe.

Part of the Akwesasne water supply was rendered undrinkable for an extended period because, the tribe alleged, a construction mistake by a Melius subcontractor polluted it with salt water. They reached a $500,000 settlement with Melius’ company and the subcontractor, neither of which acknowledged blame.

But, validating Thompson’s and Ransom’s belief that the operation could make money, the Akwesasne casino remains open and it turns a profit, thanks to a clientele that largely includes Mohawks and seniors arriving by bus from nearby places like Plattsburgh.

After mountains of litigation, Melius won a $4 million settlement from Goldberg’s company in 2002. Neither side admitted any wrongdoing.

By the late 1990s, his evolution into a Long Island power broker was materializing through a chain of events at Oheka Castle, where, as at Akwesasne, he was involved with legally entangled associates and ran afoul of neighbors.

Some of his business associates there were at least as questionable as some of those at Akwesasne. The official orders and rules he dodged were far more plentiful than those at the reservation. And he had neighbors who battled him every bit as much as the Mohawks had.

But Oheka was on his home turf, and he came out a winner.