Secret Marijuana Farm Beneath Brooklyn Cherry Factory Leaves Many Mysteries


By VIVIAN YEE

Arthur Mondella’s alternate life was buried behind a roll-down gate, behind a fleet of fancy cars, behind a pair of closet doors, behind a set of button-controlled steel shelves, behind a fake wall and down a ladder in a hole in a bare concrete floor.
Here, in a weathered basement below the Red Hook, Brooklyn, maraschino cherry factory he had inherited from his father and his grandfather, he nurtured a marijuana farm that could hold as many as 1,200 plants at a time. Here, below the office where he served as chief of Dell’s Maraschino Cherries Company, he kept a small, dusty library and a corkboard pinned with notes. Most of the books dealt with plant propagation methods. One did not: the “World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime.”
Much about the hidden operations of Mr. Mondella, 57, who shot and killed himself on Tuesday as investigators found his marijuana plants, remains frustratingly out of reach for his family and friends. Investigators do not know how he distributed the marijuana, how long he had grown it or who helped him. Most baffling of all are Mr. Mondella’s reasons for hiding his operation under a business that was, by all accounts, healthy and growing — and for taking his life so suddenly when he was caught.
On Thursday, the day of Mr. Mondella’s private wake, the company said the cherry business would go on. Major restaurant chains that bought Dell’s cherries, including Red Lobster and T.G.I. Friday’s, said their menus would be unaffected. But at the offices of the Brooklyn district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, the focus was on untangling what part of the business was cherries, and what part was marijuana, at the red-brick factory on Dikeman Street.
“We’re looking at the actual connections between marijuana and the factory and whether or not some portion of the cherry business there really was an effort to mask the marijuana operation,” said a law enforcement official close to the investigation, who asked not to be identified because the inquiry is continuing.
Given the thick scent of cherry processing and the large amount of electricity the factory would naturally consume, the official said, “it’s a very convenient place to be” to mask both the odor and the power needed to cultivate the marijuana plants.
Yet because the basement labyrinth was so well concealed, it seemed plausible that the cherry factory’s regular employees were unaware of their boss’s secret. Mr. Mondella may have been the only person with access to the garage where he kept several luxury vehicles and the entrance to the basement, the official said.
Still, the scope of the operation made it unlikely that Mr. Mondella was the only person involved. Spanning about 2,500 square feet, the underground complex included an office, a large grow room, a storage area, a freezer for the harvested plants and an elevator. A network of 120 high-end growing lamps shined on the plants with intensities that varied depending on each plant’s size; an irrigation system watered them. Investigators recovered about 60 types of marijuana seeds.
The investigators had never seen a larger operation in New York City, the official said.
“The way you have to set that up, there’s got to be plumbers and electricians working off the books who are very sophisticated,” he said, “and it wasn’t Arthur Mondella, as far as we know, that had that kind of skills.”
Investigators first received a tip about Mr. Mondella and illegal drugs about five years ago, he said, but nothing came of it then.
As part of a separate investigation into allegations that Dell’s was polluting Red Hook’s water supply, the district attorney and the city’s Department of Environmental Protection decided to search the factory for files on environmental infractions. It was during that search on Tuesday that they stumbled on the marijuana operation. (The pollution investigation is still active.)
The drug inquiry is still in its early stages. But the official said investigators were looking closely at whether the operation had ties to organized crime. Mr. Mondella would have required help to maintain the farm and distribute his product, the thinking goes, and an organized crime syndicate could have provided it.
To Mr. Mondella’s family and friends, the revelations about his hidden operations have been “aberrant and shocking,” Michael Farkas, the lawyer representing the Mondella family and the management of Dell’s, said in an interview.
The company was considered among the largest producers of the cherries in the country. Although many cherry suppliers were disappearing around the time that Mr. Mondella took over the business in 1983, the market appears stable now, thanks in part to maraschino cherries’ popularity abroad, said Robert McGorrin, the chairman of the food science department at Oregon State University, where the current method of processing the cherries in brine, rather than alcohol, was developed in the 1920s.
Law enforcement officials are just as perplexed about Mr. Mondella’s motives. Though investigators are sorting through a substantial bounty of evidence, they have no hope of gaining access to the data on Mr. Mondella’s iPhone 6, which, like other new-model iPhones, is encrypted with a user-created code that even Apple says it cannot unlock.

“No one seems to have had any clue that this was going on, and there certainly didn’t seem to be any strange or traumatic circumstances that would’ve explained this,” Mr. Farkas said. “The business was not doing poorly; the business was doing very well. We were unaware of any major problems in Arthur’s life. Somebody knows — but we’re all waiting for answers here.”

Cherry king tycoon killed himself after cops found his secret drug lab 'because the mob would have assassinated him anyway'



Arthur Mondella, 57, shot himself dead in the bathroom of Dell's Maraschino Cherries factory in Brooklyn, New York
Investigators looking into environmental offenses smelled marijuana coming from the walls
Mondella went into his private bathroom and shot himself in the head
Investigators had entered the premises on environmental warrants but suspected factory was being used as front for a grow lab 
Officials discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars, 80 to 100lbs of pot and a fleet of vintage cars, including a Rolls Royce and Porsche


By Snejana Farberov

Investigators are now looking into a possible link between a maraschino cherry factory and organized crime after the owner of the New York-based business committed suicide on Tuesday.
Arthur Mondella, 57, president of Dell's Maraschino Cherries factory in Brooklyn, shot himself in the head as police broke into a drug lab hidden behind a wall.
Mondella had cooperated with investigators for five hours over allegations the 67-year-old family business had been dumping hazardous waste.
A pot operation was found to be operating behind the walls of the family business during a separate investigation into hazardous waste
But a law enforcement source tells New York Post that the Breaking Bad-style drug operation at the cherry plant may have been been just the tip of the iceberg.
'He knew the mob would kill him,' the unnamed source told the paper. 'That’s why he shot himself.
‘Why else would you shoot yourself over 100 pounds of weed? It was the multi-million operation he lost.’
Investigators reportedly came across suspicious shelving in a storage unit - then behind a door found a false wall with the smell of weed seeping through.
The entrance to a dug-out basement was then found, with three bags of marijuana inside.  
According to the NY Post, generators were found inside the factory along with a high-tech security outfit of dozens of cameras, barbed wire and motion-detector lights.
Mondella then excused himself to go to his private bathroom, locked the door and shot himself at 1.30pm, a law enforcement source told Daily Mail Online.
Before committing suicide, the third-generation cherry tycoon told his sister who was present, Joanne Capece, 'Take care of my kids'.
Those present heard a single gunshot, according to CBS New York.  Mondella later died at a local hospital from the .357 magnum gunshot wound.
 The paper reported Wednesday that the cherry tycoon was hiding a .357 handgun strapped to his ankle. He had another gun in his office safe.
The DA's office and environmental regulators discovered 80-100lbs of pot in three large black bags and hundreds of thousands of dollars concealed in the secret room.
Shelves operated by magnets had been used to conceal the 50-by-50 feet drug lab, which has been described as an 'extremely professional' and very expensive operation. 
A row of luxury vintage vehicles, including a Porsche, Rolls-Royce, a Harley-Davidson and a Mercedes, were also found covered in tarp in a back lot of the factory in the industrial area of Red Hook.
Calls to the business went unanswered Wednesday.
Investigators had been looking into the company over allegations it was dumping hazardous material into the sewage system and waterways - but had suspected that the facility was also being used as a grow lab.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars along with 80lbs of marijuana were reportedly discovered in the secret room behind the factory walls in Brooklyn, New York
One official told the New York Daily News: 'It appears there was another activity going on, that's for sure. I don't think you kill yourself over a bag of weed. There has to be more to it.'
Brooklyn District Attorney's office had received a tip-off about the marijuana operation in 2013, the New York Post reported.
Despite watching comings and goings at the factory for six months, the DA's office was unable to work out if there was a marijuana business operating inside. 
An anonymous source told the paper that the environmental offense warrants were simply used to get into the building.
The DA's office said 'no further information about this tragedy is available at this time'.
Officers consult paper work during the investigation of the cherry factory on Tuesday. The Brooklyn district attorney's office had a tip-off in 2013 that the firm was fronting a marijuana operation 
Dell's Maraschino Cherries, which has been in business for 76 years, supplies to Red Lobster, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chick-fil-A and TGI Fridays for use in cocktails and desserts.
Arthur Mondella's grandfather, Arthur Mondella Sr, started the business as a Brooklyn storefront in 1948.
The Brooklyn factory now turns out 400,000 bottles of cherries each week - and 19 million pounds of cherries a year.
The company recently underwent a $5million overhaul and redesigned their bottles with a retro label last year after the company suffered following the financial crash in 2008.
At the time Mr Mondella told The Wall Street Journal: 'At this point, the maraschino cherry is just another commodity. We’re trying to change that.'
Some 25 investigators arrived at the facility at 8am on Tuesday with search warrants to inspect its operations.

Mondella is survived by his ex-wife Yevgeniya and their five-year-old daughter Antoinette. 

Sicilian Mafia now outgunned by Calabria's cocaine-trading mobsters 'Ndrangheta



The shadowy Calabrian crime syndicate ’Ndrangheta has beaten the Sicilian Mafia for control of organised crime in northern Italy, the country’s most senior anti-Mafia prosecutor Franco Roberti has said.
 The Calabrian Mafia, which has risen to prominence through its control of Europe’s cocaine trade, is now laundering its millions and integrating successfully into northern Italy’s economy. It is aided by the country’s ambiguous attitude to corruption, Mr Roberti said at the launch of the annual report of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate.
He said the dominance of the ’Ndrangheta in Milan and Lombardy, Italy’s richest city and region respectively, had “come at the expense of Cosa Nostra”. He added that ’Ndrangheta members living in the north for many generations had gradually acquired a full knowledge of the area by “cementing relations with local communities and prioritising contacts with local politicians and institutions”. Victims of ’Ndrangheta rackets in northern Italy were often too afraid to talk to police or magistrates.
But Milan, Italy’s finance capital, is not the only northern city to be heavily infiltrated by the Calabrian mob. Mr Roberti noted that in Bologna ’Ndrangheta had established “a criminal power network whose expansion has exceeded the worst predictions”.
Last month, more than 100 people were arrested in the region of Emilia Romagna, of which Bologna is the capital, including six suspected ’Ndrangheta bosses, serving police officers, a prominent local politician and several businessmen. ’Ndrangheta had spent decades infiltrating Emilia Romagna, Bologna’s chief prosecutor Roberto Alfonso told reporters.
Italian organised crime is also spreading abroad. In November last year, Paola Severino, the former Justice Minister, said mob clans originally from Sicily, Naples and Calabria were infiltrating the north of Italy and other EU economies – as ’Ndrangheta already had in Germany. Figures detailing Mafia activity around Europe, presented to the European Commission last year by the Italian government, showed that ’Ndrangheta was also active in France and Spain.
  But the UK is not immune. The figures suggested that outside Italy, only Spain and Holland had experienced more activity by the Camorra, the Naples-based Mafia. There were up to 20 Camorra-related incidents in Britain cited by Italian police between 2000 and 2011. But Mr Roberti said one of the keys to ’Ndrangheta’s power and wealth remained its “all-encompassing control” of the port of Gioia Tauro, which had become “the true gateway for cocaine in Italy”.
The prosecutor also warned that Cosa Nostra had not been mortally wounded despite a series of high-profile arrests. He said the crime organisation was making strenuous efforts to rebuild its central command in Palermo.
A lax attitude to financial crime is helping them. “Corruption, including tax evasion, has never been fought effectively, it was tacitly accepted and was not considered a serious crime,” Mr Roberti said.
Rosy Bindi, the head of the parliamentary anti-Mafia commission, agreed.
“The fight against corruption is also the fight against the Mafia and we’re paying the price for a system that’s too relaxed,” she said.
Experts say Mafia groups were helped in 2002 by Silvio Berlusconi’s move to partially decriminalise false accounting. Matteo Renzi’s government is seeking to overturn the Berlusconi legislation.



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Cocaine sales in downturn turn Italy mafia into powerhouse: report


BY STEVE SCHERER

 (Reuters) - The Calabrian mafia's role as one of Europe's biggest importers of South American cocaine has made it the most powerful economic force in its poor home region in southern Italy, a report released on Tuesday said.
Direct ties to Mexican and Colombian cocaine cartels, with which it has built trust over the years, have made the 'Ndrangheta a financial powerhouse, said Italy's national anti-mafia prosecutors' office in its annual report.
Both within Italy and in countries like Germany and Holland, "the 'Ndrangheta has no rivals and, for this reason ... because of its hegemony in drugs trafficking, it has become, against a depressed economic backdrop, the only financially significant player in Calabria and beyond," the report said.
Though the network has a well-earned reputation for brutality and violence, the 'Ndrangheta's real power is economic, said the report, based on mafia investigations and trials conducted between mid-2013 and mid-2014.
During the current economic slump, which began halfway through 2011, the Calabrian mafia has spread its influence north to cities including Rome, Milan and Bologna, often using its wealth to buy political influence.
"The 'Ndrangheta has not only been able to penetrate the north's construction sector ... but it has become one of the most important operators in the whole sector," the report said.
Companies "capitalized by the 'Ndrangheta" over time became "front runners in the different sectors where they operate", which include legal gambling, trucking, and the restaurant and hotel trade.
The 'Ndrangheta, Sicily's Cosa Nostra and the Camorra around Naples have long plagued Italy's south, but recent investigations have shown their influence spreading, which is terrible news for the economy, the euro zone's third biggest.
Calabria, in the southern toe of Italy, is one of Europe's poorest regions, with an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent, and the oppressive presence of organized crime is one of the reasons for its decrepit state.
A 2012 Bank of Italy study shows that the economies of two southern regions, Puglia and Basilicata, where there was virtually no organized crime until about four decades ago, were crippled when mafia groups moved in.
The mob's growing presence hacked an estimated 16 percentage points off per capita GDP in those regions over three decades, the study said.



Mafia man Domenico Rancadore to be extradited to Italy



A convicted Mafia boss who lived in London for more than 20 years must be extradited to Italy, a judge has ruled.
Domenico Rancadore was arrested in August 2013 after he was found living in Uxbridge, west London, under the alias of Marc Skinner.
He was convicted in his absence in 1999 of being a member of a criminal organisation and sentenced to seven years in jail.
The 65-year-old had launched an 18-month battle against his extradition.
At Westminster Magistrates' Court, Judge Howard Riddle ruled there was no abuse of process and that Rancadore's Article 3 rights, regarding inhuman and degrading treatment, would not be breached by extradition to Italy.
Rancadore, who is known as The Professor, can now appeal to the High Court.
BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman, who was in court, said: "His extradition was sought under the European Arrest Warrant scheme and the grounds for opposing extradition under that scheme are very limited, and we are waiting to hear from his lawyers as to whether they intend to make this last ditch appeal.
"At the moment his extradition has been ordered here at court today and in the normal run of things that would mean him being returned under the extradition to Italy in the next 10 days."
Following the ruling, a spokesman from the Italian Embassy said: "We are pleased that a British judge has recognised that there is no longer a problem with the Italian prison system which prevents extradition to Italy in general."
Rancadore moved to London from his native Sicily in 1993 with his wife and two children after he was acquitted at the end of a three-year court case over Mafia allegations.
But in a second trial in 1999, the former teacher was convicted in his absence of being part of a criminal organisation between 1987 and 1995.
While in Britain, he had run a travel agency.
Since his arrest in 2013, he has fought a legal battle to prevent his extradition.
In March 2014 he defeated a bid to extradite him on grounds that prison conditions in Italy would breach his human rights.
Days later he was told he would not face an appeal because the Crown Prosecution Service had missed a deadline to lodge the appeal.

But he was rearrested in April after a fresh European Arrest Warrant was received from the Italian authorities.