What was he hiding? Maraschino cherry manufacturer kills himself amid probe

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RED HOOK, Brooklyn (PIX11) -- He was a well-known maraschino cherry factory owner who police say was manufacturing something with a much higher street value -- illegal drugs.

Police investigated, and the factory owner, Arthur Mondella, 57, committed suicide while officers were combing through his facility just steps away from him. Now, the situation has raised more questions, and the main person who can answer them is dead.

Detectives from the Brooklyn district attorney's office spent all day Wednesday searching for evidence at the Dell's Cherries factory at 175 Dikeman Street, while people who knew its owner tried to make sense of the situation police said Mondella had been in.

"He's got a good business going, and a little extra on the side," said Frank Ragis, a truck driver who regularly delivers goods related to maraschino cherry manufacturing to the factory.

That something extra to which Ragis referred was a marijuana growing operation, run secretly by Mondella out of his cherry factory, according to investigators. But people who knew the man whose plant manufactured a third of all maraschino cherries in the U.S., said the accusations came as a shock.

"He would be the last person you would think that would get involved in drugs," said Paul Lavis, a businessman who owns the air conditioning company across the street from the cherry plant. But he added, "You never know, right?"

Lavis said that even though Dell's Cherries has barbed wire on its roof, and has multiple security cameras spying on every square inch of the building's exterior, one would never guess that inside the facility is the drug operation of which investigators said they had evidence.

"I was in his building looking to put air conditioning in," said Lavis, "so I walked through the whole building. [The] cherries, they did smell."

What he did not smell was what investigators did: marijuana. A faint scent of the illegal plant wafted through what was apparently a false wall, while investigators inspected the facility. They had been on hand initially Tuesday to probe a report of illegal dumping of food processing waste, for which they had a search warrant.

Once an investigator asked to gain access behind the false wall, Mondella went to his nearby private bathroom, and shouted, "Take care of my kids," to his sister, who also works at the family-owned plant. Then he pulled the trigger of the handgun he'd been authorized to carry, and shot himself in the head.

"I think it's sad," said Giovanni Daniel, who works nearby, "and I don't know how long it's been going on, but it's insane."

On scene Wednesday, more than 24 hours after the search warrant was served, were Mondella's sister, and some employees, even though the plant was closed.

Also present were the investigators, who said they'd found 80 pounds of pot in bags, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

Late Wednesday afternoon, investigators filled an entire box truck with evidence, including what appeared to be apparatus used to grow plants.

There have been no arrests made in the case, but the investigation remains underway.