Drug probe under way at New York cherry processor after owner's suicide

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 25, 2015 1:36 PM

By Barbara Goldberg

(Reuters) - A Brooklyn maraschino cherry processor is under investigation after hidden marijuana plants were discovered in the family-owned business and its owner committed suicide while authorities were searching the premises during an unrelated raid, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

State and city environmental investigators descended on Dell's Maraschino Cherries on Tuesday to look into complaints that the family-owned business was dumping syrup and other cherry waste into surrounding New York Harbor, the Brooklyn District Attorney's office said.

"Hours after the investigators were at the facility, they noticed a flimsy-looking wall and a faint smell of marijuana," said Christina Carrega, a spokesman for the prosecutor.

"They couldn’t get to what was behind that wall until another search warrant was executed," she said.

At about the same time, plant owner Arthur Mondella, 57, whose father and grandfather had opened the Red Hook business in 1948, excused himself and locked himself in a private bathroom. A gunshot rang out, Carrega said.

"He apparently shot himself and died at a local hospital," the DA's office said in a statement.

The raid took place because honey beekeepers in Brooklyn had complained after the foraging insects and their honeycombs were turning a jarring shade of red typically seen on fire engines and traffic stop signs.

Authorities recovered a large amount of marijuana and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from the site, Carrega said, noting the New York City Police Department and other authorities are continuing the investigation.

"It's a large-scale marijuana growing operation," said DA spokeswoman Lupe Todd.

The calls that Reuters placed to the factory went unanswered on Wednesday.

Declaring its business philosophy to be "The More the Cherrier," Dell said on its website that it had implemented environmentally friendly "green initiatives" at its 38,000-square foot manufacturing facility.

"As a company, we seek to balance various environmental and social concerns that lead to a cleaner and better planet," the website said.