NEW YORK, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- The chief executive of one of the largest U.S. producers of maraschino cherries committed suicide this week as New York City authorities were raiding his factory -- which they say might have been a front for an illicit drug operation.
The New York Post reported that Dell's Maraschino Cherries owner Arthur Mondella was present at the Brooklyn factory Tuesday when police arrived. He stood by as investigators examined a piece of shelving that looked suspicious in the facility and then discovered a door to the false wall behind it. When they opened it, the Post reported, officers were hit by the unique smell of marijuana.
At that point, officials said, Mondella asked to use the restroom and a gunshot was heard moments later. The owner was discovered to have shot himself in the head. WCBS-TV reported Wednesday that immediately before going to the restroom, Mondella told his sister -- who was also present during the raid -- to "take care of my kids."
Ultimately, three large bags of marijuana were found behind the fake wall, the report said. And investigators believe Mondella was growing the plants in part of the facility.
Dell's Maraschino Cherries was founded in 1948 by Arthur Mondella, Sr. and Ralph Mondella, Arthur's grandfather and father, respectively. The company supplied the cherries to large U.S. restaurants like Olive Garden and Red Lobster.
Officially, authorities weren't even searching for drugs during the raid. Tipped off to the marijuana operation, authorities could not obtain a search warrant -- so they instead teamed with the New York Department of Environmental Protection to inspect the facility for possible violations. Once inside, they clued in on the suspicious shelving.
Investigators were able to get in this way after the city reportedly helped them discover that the facility was dumping waste of some kind through the sewer system -- a potential violation that legally permitted officials to search the facility.
Officials said they also confiscated hundreds of thousands of dollars from the operation, the Post reported.
The cherry factory was reportedly protected with all kinds of security measures -- including motion lights, barbed wire and security cameras throughout the building. Police also found electrical generators on the property.
"All that points to guilt. You're not protecting your cherries," a source close to the situation told the Post. "He's probably growing."
The official website for the company states that Dell's is a family business with nearly 70 years of experience.
"Inspired by 67 years of family ownership, Dell's Maraschino Cherries is still guided by the same family values, traditions and their passion for cherries," the website says.