The owner of Dell’s Maraschino Cherries in Brooklyn, Arthur Mondella, was living a secret life.
Much like the fictional character on TV’s Breaking Bad, Walter White. Arthur Mondella wasn't making Crystal Methamphetamine, he was growing marijuana underneath his Cherry Factory.
The grow area was hidden behind a false shelf held by magnets in a part of the factory that employees did not have access to. Once behind the shelves, there was a door and behind that three bags with about a 100 lbs of marijuana. There was a hole in the floor which led to a secret 2500 ft space that was divided up into an office, a grow room with 120 lights and irrigation system, ventilation system and seeds for 60 different strains of Marijuana.
When police found the hidden drug rooms, they also found over a 100k in cash, a Rolls Royce, a Porsche and a Harley.
The police had gotten a tip about five years ago that Arthur was growing marijuana in the factory, but they were unable to get any proof. They didn't smell anything outside, but that was masked by the 400,000 cherries being processed daily. The police brought a drug dog which alerted them to drugs in the factory, but that alone was not enough to get a warrant. They wanted to test the exhaust from the factory but they couldn't do that without a warrant. They closed the case at that time, and it remained closed until 2013 when they got a tip from a disgruntled employee that the factory was dumping the red syrup waste into the water way. The locals had long complained that the factory was polluting their neighborhood. The residents told investigators to just look around at the bees buzzing around the neighborhood. They had drank so much of the syrup they had turned red.
The police decided to get the Department of Environmental Protection involved. The DEP made some checks and found that there was more than enough evidence for a search warrant.
On February 24, 2015 a twenty-five person squad served the warrant on the red bricked cherry factory in Red Hook.
Arthur Mondella was cooperative for five hours while they search the factory, until one of the investigators noticed a shelf that looked funny. It stuck out, and once they looked at it closely they saw it was held in place by magnets. Arthur excused himself to use the restroom. He went to his office where he told his sister to take care of his kids and wife before shooting himself in the head.
The pistol he used was carried in an ankle holster. He had gotten a concealed carry permit after he sued the city in 1995, citing the fact that his Red Hook Brooklyn neighborhood had a criminal element. He was afraid that he would be kidnapped like the Tuxedo King who was buried alive in 1993 along the Hudson Parkway.
The police claim that he was set up for and was capable of growing 1200 plants in the space they found, and it is the biggest grow operation they have ever taken down. Arthur had just had a multi-million dollar upgrade done on the factory. Dell’s is still one of the biggest Maraschino Cherry distributors in the world. They changed the formula to be more inline with what people wanted. Dells had really big accounts like TGI Friday's, Buffalo Wild Wings and Red Lobster. It was making money as a cherry factory, but it was not enough for the Cherry King.
The factory used a tremendous amount of electricity, so there was no noticeable spike to draw attention to the hidden drug headquarters. The police also found two very large generators inside the factory.
Arthur was also being sued by a food supplier supplier in California. He had gotten produce from the supplier on February 3, 2015 but had failed to place the money in PACA Trust that is used by fruit and vegetable suppliers and buyers as payment. He kept $106,120.00 that was supposed to go to the supplier. Consider what the police found, 100k in cash and 100lbs of marijuana. The marijuana, if sold in California, would fetch 3k a pound and I know New York prices are sky high for product that is not as good.
I was also told that he had some Organized Crime Connections, but at this time they did not know what role if any they played in the case. Still, Dell’s Maraschino Cherries, a business in Red Hook, Brooklyn that was started at the turn of the last century, was now growing marijuana.
This has all just been uncovered in the past few weeks, and time will tell as the story continues to unfold.
I am sure a loosely similar storyline will appear on a future Law and Order SVU episode. Fiction writers couldn't dream up better material.