Screenshot by NPR
New York daycare operator and relative face federal drug charges after death of 1-year-old boy and three other children, apparently from opioids: a brick of a kilogram of fentanyl was found stored inside the New York daycare. nursery.
Grei Mendez, 36, who runs the Divino Niño daycare in the Bronx, was arrested over the weekend along with Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, her husband’s cousin who was renting a room inside the daycare.
The two men were initially charged with murder locally, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York also filed federal drug charges against them.
Medical teams had to use Narcan, the nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose, on all four children. New York police said tests confirmed the presence of fentanyl, an extremely powerful synthetic opioid that can be fatal in small doses, in the three surviving victims.
Fentanyl cake found on children’s play mats
The details of the case are disturbing, including the tragic death of 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici and the hospitalization of three other young children, including an 8-month-old girl. New details emerged Tuesday as a federal complaint was unsealed alleging a one-kilo block of fentanyl was kept in the same space occupied by the children.
“There, despite the daily presence of children, including infants, the defendants possessed large quantities of fentanyl, including one kilogram of fentanyl stored on the children’s play mats,” according to an affidavit signed by the Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Kyle Harrell.
Brito’s room, which he rented for $200 a week, also contained equipment suggesting a large drug operation: a “pound press,” authorities say, adding that the equipment is used to recompress drugs into of powder. Two other presses were found elsewhere in the daycare.
The presses are “commonly used by narcotics traffickers in ‘factories’ or other locations where narcotics are broken down, combined with fillers or other narcotics, and cut into portions for sale,” the press says. affidavit.
Children fell ill Friday afternoon
Mendez called 911 around 2:40 p.m. Friday, reporting that three children at his daycare were unresponsive. An ambulance then took the three children – aged 8 months to 2 years – from the daycare to a nearby hospital.
“Prompt FDNY EMS personnel administered Narcan to these three children and took them to Montefiore Hospital,” NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said of the case.
A fourth child, age 2, whose mother had been picked up from daycare earlier in the day was also brought in for care, and staff at Bronx Lebanon Hospital administered Narcan after seeing symptoms. exposure to opioids.
But it was too late for Dominici, whose death was pronounced at the hospital.
“Nothing will give me back our son. All the gold in the world will not make up for his life,” the boy’s father, Otoniel Feliz, told New York’s PIX11 News. “For a parent, a child’s life is priceless and their value will always be in my heart,”
Mendez and Brito face numerous charges
The Bronx District Attorney’s Office charged Mendez and Brito with murder and attempted murder, as well as depraved indifference.
Méndez’s lawyer, Andres Aranda, said he didn’t think his client knew what Brito was doing in the room she was renting.
But the federal affidavit alleges Mendez lied to investigators when she claimed no one had been at the daycare at the time of the apparent overdoses.
Citing phone records, the affidavit says Mendez made three calls immediately before dialing 911 — one to a daycare worker and the others to her husband. She called her husband back after calling 911.
“Several minutes before paramedics arrived on scene, surveillance footage showed (Mendez’s husband) enter the daycare empty-handed, then exit approximately two minutes later with what appeared to be two shopping bags responsible for content”, indicates the federal document. Instead of going out the front door, he adds, he exited the building through an alley.
Due to the circumstances and other phone evidence, Harrell said, the actions were consistent with an attempt by someone to hide evidence.
Harrell also says an inspection of Mendez’s phone showed she “deleted approximately 21,526 messages from an encrypted messaging app” dating from March 2021 to September 15 – the day the children became ill.
Mendez and Brito denied knowledge of drugs at the daycare, according to Harrell’s affidavit. He notes that Brito’s phone contained messages that the DEA agent said “indicate his involvement in drug trafficking.”
The daycare had recently been inspected
The Divino Niño daycare was duly licensed and registered, with a capacity to accommodate eight children, ages 6 weeks to 12 years, according to city records.
The daycare, which includes a one-bedroom apartment on Morris Avenue with a bedroom, playroom, bathroom and kitchen, had been inspected in early September; records describe the visit as an unannounced annual inspection.
Bronx prosecutors say the addition of federal drug charges won’t change their plans to pursue a murder case against Mendez and Brito.
“Our case is ongoing,” Patrice O’Shaughnessy, communications director for the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, told NPR, adding that the next step would be for the case to be reviewed by a grand jury. Jurors, she added, are expected back in court later this week.