One of the largest maraschino cherry companies in the country was the target of a drug raid on Tuesday, and things ended badly for the third-generation owner, who fatally shot himself during the raid.
Dell's Maraschino Cherries has been under investigation since authorities got a tip in 2013 that the cherry factory was in fact a front for a marijuana grow operation. Investigators kept tight surveillance on the factory for the six months leading up to the raid, but gathered no evidence that marijuana was being grown inside. Not giving up, authorities finally used health issues and environmental agencies to secure the search warrants they needed to inspect the building.
Police raided the Ney York facility under the guise of a health inspection, searching for possible violations involving the dumping of waste. The hours-long search was uneventful until officials reached a room that stored vintage vehicles, including a Rolls Royce and a Porsche, among others. There they noticed shelving that appeared out of place. Once that area was searched, they found a magnetically operated secret compartment behind a false wall. Within the secret compartment, investigators discovered an entrance to a dug out basement, which contained three large bags of marijuana. Investigators also discovered "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in the facility.
The cherry factory owner, Arthur Mondella, 57, was initially cooperative and calm, but once the secret door was discovered he asked to use the restroom and a loud "boom" was heard shortly after. In a tragic ending, police found Mondella dead in the bathroom, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
This seems much too drastic a measure to take unless there is something in that hidden room much more sinister than weed. "I don't know why he would do that, unless there's something worse down there," said one law enforcement source. "Poor guy, in this day and age, you can do no jail time for marijuana."
Friends and family say Mondella had recently been trying to bolster the failing cherry business, which sells to large chain restaurants such as Red Lobster, Buffalo Wild Wings, and TGI Fridays.