By Phillip Smith
The owner of historic maraschino cherry company in Brooklyn, New York, committed suicide at his plant Thursday morning moments after officers discovered a massive marijuana grow-up behind a false wall in the factory basement. Arthur Mondella, 48, becomes the 9th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.
Dell's Maraschino Cherries factory in Red Hook has been around since 1948 and was founded by Mondella's grandfather. It is a major player in the industry, supplying cocktail cherries to clients including TGIF Fridays, Chick Filet, and Caesars. The plant has the capacity to process 400,000 pounds of cherries a week.
It also had the capacity to crank out large quantities of indoor marijuana. Once investigators discovered a hidden room behind a flimsy wall in a basement storage room, they uncovered a grow-op that could hold 1,200 plants.
According to the New York Post, police had received a tip that the factory was a front for a marijuana grow, but, unable to develop evidence to obtain a search warrant, they resorted to sending in the Department of Environmental Protection to do a "routine Inspection"---and see if they could find any signs of pot operation.
When investigators unearthed a basement full of luxury cars, suspicions were aroused, and they then found some "suspicious shelving," which turned out to be a fake wall held fast by magnets. They opened the door and the rich, rank odor of marijuana burst from it.
That's when Mondella, who had been cooperating in the hours-long "inspection," ran into a nearby bathroom, locked the door, told his sister "Take care of my kids," and shot himself in the head.
Cops said they thought they had just missed a harvest in the operation that used 125 grow lights in a 2,500-foot hidden space divided into several rooms. They found 100 pounds of pot, $125,000 in cash, and 60 different varieties of marijuana seeds.