The owner of a Brooklyn factory that produced maraschino cherries fatally shot himself in the head after authorities discovered a huge marijuana-growing operation on the premises during a raid Tuesday.
Arthur Mondella, 57, became visibly nervous as officials inspected suspicious shelving in a storage room at Dell’s Maraschino Cherries in Red Hook, the New York Post reports. The company was founded by the man's grandfather in 1948 and is a supplier to TGI Fridays, Chick-fil-A and Caesar's.
Police received a tip that the famous factory was being used as a grow house, but were unable to obtain a search warrant, according to the Post. Instead, the Brooklyn D.A.'s office got an administrative search warrant to find out if the factory was illegally dumping hazardous waste. Officers from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Environmental Conservation lead the inspection, according to CBS New York.
Officers found a door behind the shelves that opened to a false wall. An "overwhelming" odor of marijuana came wafting out of the dug-out cave, an unnamed law enforcement source told the New York Post.
The newspaper reports:
Mondella immediately “asked to use the bathroom, he went in the bathroom, and, ‘Boom,’ ” a source said. Before shooting himself once in the head, Mondella told his sister, “Take care of my kids,” sources said.
Police recovered three large bags of pot from behind the false wall. A search warrant was executed, during which investigators said they found evidence of “a huge marijuana-growing operation” underneath the warehouse, according to the New York Daily News.
Neighbors said they had no idea about the clandestine operation. They told CBS New York that they thought the cherry factory was just a normal family business.
"It doesn't make sense that they're a front. I mean, they are a legitimate business," Joe Morrine, owner of neighboring business Recycled Brooklyn, told the station. “It’s sad. It’s very sad. So I don’t know. My heart goes out to their family.”
Mondella shot himself with a .357 Magnum handgun. A law enforcement source told the Post that investigators should have found out if Mondella had a gun permit before launching the raid.
"If someone finds out that he had the gun on his belt and nobody took it from him, somebody’s got a problem," the source said.