Disguised beneath the legitimate 67-year old Dell’s Maraschino Cherries plant was a huge operation cultivating the growth of marijuana, which is still illegal in New York. When investigators from the Brooklyn DA’s office arrived on Tuesday with officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to look into a case relating to illegal dumping of toxins, they discovered a secret entrance to a crawl space that led to a 50 by 50 foot area housing a secret marijuana-growing business.
At the moment of discovery, 57-year-old owner of Dell’s, Arthur Mondella, excused himself from the search, went to the bathroom, told his sister to take care of his kids, and then killed himself with the gun he had hidden under his pant leg.
The illegal operation was able to hide beneath the legal one since the sweet smell of the cherries was able to cover up the tell-tale smell of marijuana, while the extra electricity needed to grow the pot plants was easy to hide within the electric bill of the cherry factory.
Investigators found about 1,200 pot plants growing under the power of 120 expensive lamps and watered with an sophisticated irrigation system. The plants could grow to as high as 5 feet tall.
Despite the revelations Dell’s is continuing to produce cherries:
“The company will continue to fully cooperate with the district attorney’s investigation and appreciates that office’s assistance, which allows us to immediately resume our business operations despite this tragedy” family lawyer Michael Farkas said in a statement.
Mondella was fondly remembered by friends and workers. One long-time employee had tears streaming down his face as he said, “He was like a father, he would give me advice.”