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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Not a Good Week for a Modern Gatsby

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CN) - The owner of Oheka Castle -- America's second-largest private home and an inspiration for "The Great Gatsby" -- cheats his workers on wages and tips, a class action claims in Federal Court. The lawsuit comes a week after the castle's owner was shot in the head on the castle's grounds by a masked gunman who remains at large.

Named plaintiff Michael Ernano, who worked as a server and bartender at the popular wedding destination, sued Gary Melius, his sons-in-law John Anthony Dipetra and Fabian Santibanez, and the castle's catering company, Oheka Management Corp.

The castle, which according to the lawsuit is valued at more than $43 million, was one of the inspirations for F. Scott Fitgerald's novel and was used as the setting for Orson Welles' 1941 film "Citizen Kane" as the palatial estate, Xanadu.

With 32 guestrooms, the castle hosts catered events for as many as 400 diners, and can accommodate up to 1,000 guests, according to the lawsuit.

"Along with the incredible opulence of Oheka Castle comes a hefty price tag reaping substantial revenues for defendants Gary Melius and the Oheka Entities," the complaint states.

"On an episode of the reality television program, Bridezillas, one bride-to-be mortgaged her house in order to finance her fairy tale wedding at the enchanting Oheka Castle."

According to the complaint, Melius has boasted that revenue came to $3.6 million in 2011 and hoped to increase that to more than $3.8 million in 2012.

"Despite earning millions from the labor of their servants, behind the castle walls," the lawsuit states, Melius and his team "keep more of those revenues for themselves and cheat workers of wages and tips."

Ernano claims that he and other workers were not paid for overtime worked, nor for all the hours they worked, that they were not paid in a timely manner, and that their tips were stolen.

Ernano claims castle managers required workers to carry over their overtime hours into subsequent weeks to avoid paying overtime, and that workers whose hours approached 40 hours in a work week were required to clock out of their "biometric timekeeping system and continue working."

Ernano says he was forced to work at least four shifts without pay during his probationary period.

He claims that not only did Melius keep cash tips left for him by patrons, but also pocketed a 22 percent "service charge" that was tacked onto customers' bills who use the castle's catering services.

"Defendants have led patrons to believe that the service charges would be paid to the service staff," the lawsuit states. "However, defendants did not remit any of those charges to the service staff."

Melius, 69, was in the parking lot of the Long Island castle in Huntington, N.Y., when he was shot in the head on Feb. 24. Melius survived.

Ernano seeks class certification and damages for violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state labor laws.

Also named as defendants are castle manager Kathy Thompson; Oheka Management Corp.; Oheka Catering Inc.; Oheka Management LLC; and Oheka Catering LLC.

Ernano is represented by Christopher Marlborough.

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