The owner of a New York City daycare center where a one-year-old died after being exposed to fentanyl allegedly stored on top of play mats took steps to cover up her involvement in a drug distribution operation, federal prosecutors have said.
Grei Mendez, the 36-year-old owner of the daycare center, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, a 41-year-old man who rented a room from her, were hit with federal narcotics conspiracy charges on Tuesday. The charges came just days after the pair were charged with murder of “depraved indifference” in the death of Nicholas Dominici in state court.
Both Mendez and Brito have denied knowledge of any drugs in the center, according to an affidavit supplied by a DEA agent, Kyle Harrell.
Fentanyl stored in the Bronx daycare is believed to have sickened four children, including Dominici, while three others aged between eight months to two years old were sickened and hospitalized.
Officials have said they found a kilo of the deadly synthetic drug stored on top of play mats, as well as scales and three “kilo presses” used for mixing and packing the drug.
“The defendants poisoned four babies and killed one of them because they were running a drug operation from a daycare center,” Manhattan US attorney Damien Williams said at a news conference.
“Parents entrusted Grei Mendez with the care of their children. As alleged, instead of diligently safeguarding the wellbeing of those children, she and her co-conspirators put them 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. The disregard shown by Mendez and her co-conspirators for the lives of the children under her care is simply staggering.”
Surveillance footage showed Mendez entering the apartment and removing at least two full shopping bags out of the building last Friday, apparently after discovering that the children were not waking up from nap time.
Mendez then made three calls, including two to her husband who is being sought by police, before dialing 911, the federal complaint alleges. When medics arrived they found that the children were showing signs of opioid intoxication.
Prosecutors allege that the phone calls, along with the apparent deletion of thousands of texts between Mendez and her husband, points to efforts to cover up a narcotics operation.
Brito, a tenant in the apartment, was charged in the drug operation after police said they recovered a kilogram press inside a closet.
The incident has brought home to New Yorkers the damage that fentanyl, which is one-third the cost of heroin, is imposing on the city. Williams said Dominici’s death had “shocked the conscience of a city already reeling from the devastating effects of the fentanyl crisis”.
In an unrelated press conference this week, the New York City mayor, Eric Adams, called the daycare incident an “indictment on our society”.
The Divino Niño Daycare opened in January and passed a visit from city inspectors last week with no violations found. Adams emphasized at the aforementioned press conference that the city had done its job.
“Who did not do their job are the people who were there to protect the children,” Adams said. “Part of this relationship is based on trust, that those who are taking care of our children are going to do it in a safe manner.”
He also added: “I don’t know what’s wrong with us. We had fentanyl in a daycare center.”