When Arthur Mondella committed suicide in February 2015, he thought that his three daughters and his sister will inherit his $8MM fortune. Mr. Mondella committed suicide when his illegal marijuana growing business was discovered under the floor of his maraschino cherry factory. The factory was started by his grandfather and father in 1948, and the business appears to be legitimate. However, at this point, given how hard it is to tell which of the assets that he owned were from legal activities and which were from illegal ones, the amount that Mr. Mondella’s family will receive remains in doubt.
Under the civil forfeiture proceeding, the District Attorney office may seek forfeiture of funds obtained through criminal acts. The heirs cannot claim an “innocent owner” defense, because at the time the criminal acts were committed, they were not the owners of the factory.
The rules governing the civil forfeiture are arcane – the statute was adopted in 1881 and has not been updated since. The rationale for the statute is to seize money obtained illegally and to fund the NYPD to enable it to continue fighting the crime. However, it is very difficult to determine what amount of money was obtained illegally and what amount was earned through legitimate work. The incentive for the city, of course, is to claim that the largest amount of money possible came from illegal profits. Last year, NYC was projected to receive $5.3MM through civil forfeiture. The addition of $8MM from Mr. Mondella’s estate would be a nice increase to the NYC’s budget.
Disclaimer: This article only offers general information. Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions. As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney-client relationship.