Tucked away on an industrial road in Brooklyn, a cherry king’s red brick building blends into its surroundings. Only a small golden sign that reads “Dell’s” would give it away or, perhaps during a certain time of day, a delivery truck packed with sweet Dell’s maraschino cherries parked around the corner. The building has been home to a 67-year-old recipe — and, as it turns out, an alleged underground marijuana operation.
Outside, barbed wire lined the roof and security cameras watched the perimeter. Inside, a mild stench of marijuana mixed with the candied aroma and, down in the basement behind a fake wall, a secret room allegedly held between 80 and 90 pounds of pot.
“Look at this building,” 68-year-old Brian Connell, who has lived next door to the plant for nearly two decades, told the New York Times. “It’s totally anonymous. And then, here you see this Porsche Carrera being backed out. I say to myself, ‘The cherry business is profitable! Who knew?’ ”
Dell’s Maraschino Cherries was founded in 1948 by Arthur Mondella Sr. Since then, his cherries have become a sweet treat in restaurants across the country, including Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar and TGI Fridays, according to the Wall Street Journal. Eventually, the family-owned and family-operated business fell into the hands of his grandson, Arthur Mondella. But it seems Mondella, 57, was running a side business from his family’s factory.
When police caught onto it on Tuesday, Mondella reportedly went into a bathroom and shot himself dead, according to news reports.
Authorities entered Mondella’s plant with a search warrant on Tuesday morning to investigate accusations that the warehouse had been dumping toxic waste into the water system in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, according to CBS New York. Mondella reportedly cooperated with police for nearly five hours. Then authorities searched Mondella’s office, where they found a fake wall and some shelves attached to it by magnets. And they smelled pot.
“They said, ‘What’s behind here?’ ” an unnamed law enforcement official told the New York Times.
When investigators started asking Mondella questions, sources told the New York Daily News, he asked to be excused and went into a bathroom near his office. After some time, authorities attempted to get him to come out, but he refused and asked for his sister. When she got to the door, he shouted to her from inside, “Take care of my kids.” Then, sources said, he shot himself in the head. He was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.
An unnamed source told the Daily News that Mondella had a license to carry a handgun — and usually kept it strapped to his ankle.
“The man was a stand-up gentleman,” Frank Manzione, a local real estate broker who knew Mondella, told the New York Times on Wednesday. “He was a good family man, and a very, very good individual. I tell you, I’m at a loss. When I heard about this yesterday, I say, ‘Something’s wrong here.’ I’m flabbergasted by this whole situation.”
Investigators allegedly discovered three bags hiding 80 to 90 pounds of weed and nearly $200,000 in cash stashed in suitcases, according to local news reports. They also found high-end vehicles, including a Porsche, a Rolls Royce, a Harley-Davidson and a Mercedes, concealed under tarps on the property. However, it doesn’t seem the company was strapped for cash. Crain’s New York reported last month that Dell’s brings in some $20 million in annual revenue.
“Underground, it was really ‘Breaking Bad,’” an unnamed law enforcement official told the Daily News.
Mondella graduated from New York University with a finance degree in 1979 as a rise in sugar prices put pressure on the family business. He opted to take a job on Wall Street for several years before joining the family ranks.
“When I first got out of school, I really had no desire to work for my family’s company, even though I spent a lot of time there when I was a kid,” he told Crain’s last month. “I also didn’t see much of a future there because of how much we were struggling, plus a lot of our competitors were closing, so the handwriting was sort of on the wall.”
In 1983, his father, Ralph, was forced into early retirement after a triple bypass, so Mondella took charge and moved the company into a new era.
“The only way to survive is by adapting,” he told Crain’s. “You’ve got to look at every variable you can improve on, learn from your mistakes and never turn back.”
Police believe Mondella was growing pot on the property and distributing it to outside sources.
“I was just shocked. It’s a shame,” a friend of Mondella’s told CBS New York. “Maybe he was embarrassed, that’s the only thing I can think of. … Everybody loved him in the neighborhood. He was a good guy.”
“In this neighborhood it’s hard to keep a secret — except for this one,” Pat Murano, who lives next to the factory, told the New York Times.