Police officers found enough fentanyl and other drugs to kill 500,000 people hidden underneath a trap door in the play area of a nursery where a one-year-old boy died from an overdose.
Pictures released by the New York force showed a square section of the floor lifted up to reveal several clear bags filled with white and brown substances, along with drug paraphernalia bundled between wooden joists.
Officers had found 1kg of fentanyl at the site in an initial raid carried out days before the trap door was discovered. According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, such a quantity of the drug has the potential to kill 500,000 people.
The latest discovery came a week after Nicholas Dominici, one, died from an opioid overdose following exposure at the nursery. A police search at the time found fentanyl stored on top of a mat he had slept on in the nursery’s nap room along with kilo presses, a device typically used to combine large quantities of drugs.
Three other children under the age of three were hospitalised after they were poisoned by the drug at Divino Niño nursery in the Bronx.
Officers returned to the nursery on Wednesday Sept 20 following a tip-off about the trap door hiding narcotics.
Owner Grei Mendez, 36, and her tenant, Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, have been charged with narcotics possession with intent to distribute resulting in death, and conspiracy charges. Both suspects were being held without bail and face life in prison if convicted.
Phone records show Ms Mendez called her husband several times after finding the children ill before she contacted emergency services. Her husband then arrived and removed several full shopping bags from the nursery, officials said. He is wanted by police.
A complaint filed with Manhattan federal court states the “defendants maintained large quantities of fentanyl, including a kilogram of fentanyl stored on top of children’s playmats”.
Manhattan US attorney Damien Williams said Ms Mendez and her co-conspirators put the children “directly in harm’s way, running a narcotics operation and storing deadly fentanyl out of the very space in which the children ate, slept, and played”.
A lawyer for Ms Mendez told the BBC his client denied the charges and was unaware that drugs were being kept in the nursery by Mr Brito.