Bronx Daycare Owner, Tenant Face Drug Death Charges

A day care owner and her tenant are facing federal charges after the death of a 1-year-old child allegedly exposed to fentanyl stored in their New York apartment, federal prosecutors said.

Grei Mendez, 36, ran the El Divino Niño daycare from an apartment in the Bronx, where Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, also lived. The two men were first charged with murder following the death of 1-year-old Nicholas Feliz-Dominici last week, and on Tuesday federal prosecutors announced they would also face federal conspiracy charges to distribute narcotics resulting in death.

The federal charges were filed against Mendez and Brito following a search of the daycare, where police allegedly found “large quantities of fentanyl” as well as “machinery and paraphernalia used to package narcotics.”

“The parents entrusted Grei Mendez with custody of their children,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. “As alleged, instead of diligently protecting the well-being of these children, she and her co-conspirators put them directly in harm’s way, running a narcotics operation and storing deadly fentanyl out of space even in which children ate, slept, and played.

Grei Mendez (left) and Carlisto Acevedo Brito face charges in daycare drug case.

New York Daily News via Getty Images

Prosecutors said Mendez called police Friday afternoon to report that three young children in her care were unresponsive.

The children were taken to the hospital, where two of them – an 8-month-old and a 2-year-old – were given Narcan, an emergency medication used to reverse the effects of opioids. Nicholas, however, was pronounced dead shortly after arriving, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors added that another child, also 1 year old, was picked up by his parents two hours before Mendez called 911. According to the complaint, the parents of this fourth child noticed that the child was “lethargic and unresponsive” and took the toddler to a hospital, where medical professionals also administered Narcan.

Medical professionals determined that each child taken to the hospital that day had symptoms consistent with opioid poisoning, authorities said.

A photo evidence of fentanyl and a press were allegedly recovered from a daycare in the Bronx neighborhood of New York.
A photo evidence of fentanyl and a press were allegedly recovered from a daycare in the Bronx neighborhood of New York.

United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York

During a search of the apartment, police found 1 kilogram of fentanyl on a children’s play mat in the hallway, as well as a hydraulic press believed to have been used to compress narcotics into bricks.

Mendez’s lawyer, Andres Aranda, denied knowledge of the presence of drugs in his daycare. According to the New York Times, he declared during his arraignment that “his only crime was renting a room.”

But federal prosecutors said digital forensics indicated that immediately before calling 911, Mendez called another daycare worker and her husband, who is Brito’s cousin.

Digital forensics also reportedly discovered that Mendez deleted approximately 21,526 messages with her husband dated from March 2021 to September 15, the day the children became ill, from an encrypted app.

According to prosecutors, Mendez texted her husband throughout the day that police had been called to the apartment and told him the officers were asking questions about him.

Prosecutors said surveillance footage showed Mendez’s husband was inside the daycare on the day of the alleged fentanyl exposure and left minutes before police arrived, taking shopping bags.

During an interview with investigators, Mendez claimed there were no drugs inside the daycare and that the hydraulic press found by police could have been left behind by a previous occupant, according to the complaint .

Prosecutors said Brito also denied knowing about any drugs inside the daycare or the hydraulic press. A search of Brito’s phone also allegedly revealed that he was messaging someone in August about police activity.

Zoila Dominici, the mother of the deceased 1-year-old, told the New York Times that her son was adjusting well to the daycare, which she said was affordable and had a good reputation.

“I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary,” she told the New York Times on Sunday. “Just little beds and toys.”

Dominici said the family was struggling with the loss of Nicholas, adding that “he shouldn’t have died like that.”

“He was the little prince of the house,” she told the Times, describing how much the one-year-old was loved by his siblings. “They took such good care of him.”

The boy’s death also focused attention on New York officials who regulate in-home daycares.

Speaking at a news conference Monday, New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan said inspectors conducted a surprise inspection of the daycare on Sept. 6 but did not identify any medicine nor the hydraulic press.

“I’m really sorry, but one of the things my child care inspectors are not trained to do is look for fentanyl. But maybe they should start,” Vasan said.

Also speaking at the press conference, Mayor Eric Adams defended the Department of Health by saying inspectors did not see a “drug lab,” adding that they had fulfilled their duties.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams holds a news conference Monday about sick children at a Bronx daycare.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams holds a news conference Monday about sick children at a Bronx daycare.

New York City Mayor’s Office/YouTube

Aranda did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, and it is unclear when Mendez and Brito are due back in court.

“This case reflects every parent’s worst nightmare,” New York Police Commissioner Edward A. Caban said in a statement. “These suspected drug dealers brazenly carried out their illicit activities in one of the most ill-conceived locations imaginable, but they will be held accountable. »


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