Fentanyl is a powerful opioid drug that can cause fatal overdoses in adults and children. It is often mixed with other drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, to increase their potency and profits. But sometimes, fentanyl can end up in places where it does not belong, such as a day care center.
In this blog post, we will tell you the shocking story of how fentanyl was stored on top of playmats at a Bronx day care center where a baby fell ill and later died, and three other kids got sick from apparent opioid exposure. We will also reveal the federal charges that the owner of the day care center and her associate are facing for their involvement in this tragic incident.
The Day Care Center of Death
The day care center in question is called “Divino Niño” and it is located in the Bronx, New York City. It is run by Grei Mendez, 36, who lives in the same building with her husband and their two children. The day care center is licensed by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and can accommodate up to 15 children.
On Friday, September 15, 2023, four children who attended the day care center fell ill and showed signs of opioid exposure, such as vomiting, lethargy, and difficulty breathing. One of them was Nicholas Dominici, a 1-year-old boy who was rushed to the hospital but could not be saved. He was pronounced dead at 3:45 p.m.
The other three children were treated with naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdose, and survived. They were later released from the hospital.
The Fentanyl Stash
How did fentanyl end up in the day care center? According to a federal complaint unsealed on Tuesday, September 19, 2023, Mendez and her associate Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, were involved in a conspiracy to distribute narcotics resulting in death and possession with intent to distribute narcotics resulting in death.
The complaint alleges that Mendez and Brito stored large quantities of fentanyl in the day care space, despite the daily presence of children, including infants. The complaint says that a kilogram of fentanyl was stored on top of children’s playmats in the hallway closet. The complaint also says that two kilo presses — devices used by drug dealers when packaging large quantities of drugs — were found in the same closet along with a third one in Brito’s bedroom.
The complaint charges Mendez and Brito with conspiring together to distribute fentanyl from July to September 2023. Brito is the cousin of Mendez’s husband who was renting a bedroom in the day care. He was arrested on Friday after the incident. Mendez was arrested on Monday after she turned herself in.
The Cover-Up Attempt
Mendez claims that she had no idea that drugs were in the building and that she called 911 when she saw something wrong with the kids. However, the complaint reveals that before calling 911 at 2:40 p.m., Mendez made three other calls: the first to another employee of the day care at 2:39 p.m., the second two to an individual she later said was her husband.
Initially, her first attempt to reach her husband went unanswered, and their second conversation lasted a brief 10 seconds. Following her call to 911, she made multiple additional attempts to contact her husband.
Several minutes before emergency personnel arrived at the scene, surveillance footage showed her husband enter the day care empty-handed and exit two minutes later carrying what appears to be two shopping bags weighted with contents. Instead of leaving through the front door, he exited through the back alley.
The law enforcement officer who wrote the complaint called this behavior consistent with “attempting to remove materials from the day care to avoid their discovery by law enforcement.”
Mendez’s phone was examined, revealing the deletion of more than 21,000 messages exchanged with her husband on an encrypted messaging app from March 2021 until last Friday. These deleted messages indicated that Mendez had informed her husband about law enforcement inquiries regarding him. In response, he advised her to inform them that he was at work, while she advised him to seek legal counsel. Allegedly, she deleted these messages prior to law enforcement reaching the daycare facility.
A review of Brito’s electronic devices showed that he exchanged numerous messages with others that indicate his participation in narcotics trafficking.
The Justice Seekers
Mendez and Brito are facing federal charges that carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or death. They are being held without bail pending trial.
The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, said at a news conference on Tuesday that authorities are still searching for Mendez’s husband, who is considered a fugitive. Williams said: “This is something we’re going to run to ground. Those drugs came from somewhere. We’re going to make sure we get it all the way back to the source.”
The parents of Nicholas Dominici, who was the only child of his mother and the youngest of four siblings, are devastated by his loss. They are demanding justice for their son and the other children who were harmed by the fentanyl exposure.
This is a heartbreaking case that shows the dangers of fentanyl and the need for more awareness and prevention. Fentanyl is a deadly drug that can kill anyone who comes into contact with it, even innocent children. We hope that this blog post has shed some light on this tragic story and that justice will be served for the victims and their families.