A tragic scene unfolded at the family-owned Dell’s Maraschino Cherries company on Tuesday. The New York Daily News reports that owner Arthur Mondella, 57, shot and killed himself after police officers questioned him about a weed smell in the factory. They later found the pot, according to sources.
Investigators had a search warrant to enter the Red Hook factory to determine if the factory “was illegally dumping potentially hazardous materials and chemicals they used to process the cherries into the sewer system,” CBS reported, as suspected by the Department of Environmental Conservation, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection and the Brooklyn DA’s office. At worst, officials expected to slap Mondella with a fine.
Mondella was apparently cooperative, but when investigators mentioned that they smelled weed, he excused himself and went to the bathroom. He reportedly had a “license to carry a gun and often kept it holstered to his ankle,” a source told the Daily News. From inside the bathroom, he yelled to his sister, “Take care of my kids!” before he shot himself.
It was then that police discovered the cherry factory had been selling another, more clandestine product:
After Mondella shot himself in the head, investigators were shocked to discover three bags holding about 80 pounds of pot and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash stashed in the factory, sources said.
Later, after executing a search warrant on the secret entrance, investigators uncovered “a huge marijuana-growing operation” underneath the warehouse, a source said.
In the space below the plant, they also found numerous high-end vehicles, including a Rolls-Royce, a Porsche and Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
“Underground, it was really ‘Breaking Bad,’” said the astounded law enforcement source.
Neighboring business owners were shocked. “It doesn’t make sense that it would be a front; I mean, they’re a legitimate business. They’ve been around for a long time,” said Joe Morrine. “Just a normal business operating; you know, lots of forklifts moving things in and out; nice people.”
The company has stayed in Mondella’s family for three generations. Mondella leaves behind his wife and toddler, and two adult daughters by his ex-wife.
(Photo: Andreas Krämer)