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Maraschino Man: The Odd and Unfortunate Story of Arthur Mondella

Soon after New York City’s legalization of urban beekeeping in 2010, small operations began popping up, especially in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Red Hook. This was the likely cause of the noticeable increase in bee traffic at Red Hook resident Dell’s Maraschino Cherry Factory. Workers tried to curb the corn syrup theft, but the bees had developed a taste for the makings of the electric-red garnish. Soon enough, a few of the yellow forager bees returned to their hives a redder shade, and hives around Brooklyn started dripping honey infused with Red Dye Number 40.

Though it was sold in small batches, the concoction was reportedly “metallic” tasting and the whole ordeal was a serious annoyance to both Dell’s owner Arthur Mondella and the Brooklyn beekeepers. Mondella solicited the help of beekeeping experts from the National Resources Defense Council and the New York City Beekeepers Association. As winter fell on Brooklyn, bees returned to their natural color and the spotlight on Dell’s faded.

Mondella was a third generation owner of the Dell’s factory, which remains one of the largest maraschino cherry producers in the nation--TGI Friday's and Buffalo Wild Wings are among its most famous clients. Business was allegedly healthy, so it appeared unlikely that a massive marijuana growing operation would be found in a sophisticated lair hidden beneath the factory five years later, though that’s exactly what happened.

According to the New York Times, the underground grow house encompassed 2,500 square feet, the largest operation some investigators said they had ever seen. Authorities had reportedly been tipped off to the underground marijuana business, though the search warrants were executed due to environmental concerns, as it was discovered the factory was illegally dumping waste. Hours into the investigation, authorities found the entrance to the operation in a closet behind steel shelving and a false wall, in a room housing Mondella’s collection of vintage luxury cars. When the marijuana plants were discovered, 57-year-old Mondella went into a private bathroom and fatally shot himself.

At the time of this writing, investigators know very little of the network it surely took to nurture, dispense, and sell the product as well as build and maintain the operation’s underground hideout. The discovery of a copy of “The World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime” in the hidden office has led to obvious speculation of mob involvement. Dell’s might have seemed like an odd candidate for a drug front, but the nature of its (notably aromatic) production process covered the tracks for one of a grow operations dead giveaways—electricity usage. Heat lamps are needed to provide nutrients to the marijuana plants, a system that is often difficult to conceal.

Besides the mystery drug operation, Mondello leaves behind a 5-year-old daughter with his ex-wife, a public shocked that the successful company was used as a drug front, and authorities baffled as to why he took his life over marijuana charges.

Photo by Fotolia/vladimirenezic