MANHATTAN, N.Y. (PIX11) – Grei Mendez, the owner of Divino Nino Day Care in the Bronx, called her husband twice and another person once before she dialed 911 to help three unresponsive children who didn’t wake up from their nap on Friday after fentanyl exposure, according to a federal complaint released Tuesday.
“As alleged in the complaint, before emergency personnel arrived at the day care, Mendez and a co-conspirator tried to cover up what happened,” said Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “All of that happened while the children – the babies – were suffering from the effects of fentanyl poisoning and were in desperate need of help.”
The explosive complaint, which charges Mendez and her husband’s cousin with conspiracy to distribute narcotics resulting in death, also revealed surveillance footage showed Mendez’s spouse, who is unnamed, going into the day care empty-handed before first responders and police arrived. Two minutes later, authorities said the husband was seen running out of a back alley of the day care carrying two shopping bags weighted down with contents.
Law enforcement continues to search for Mendez’s husband, who was described as an alleged co-conspirator.
“We’re not going to give up. We’re going to get him,” Williams said.
The three children were raced to the hospital and two of them were revived with Narcan, while Mendez kept calling her husband, according to the court documents. But 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici could not be saved and died at Montefiore Medical Center.
Meanwhile, another 2-year-old who had been taken home from the day care was brought to Bronx Care Hospital by his mother when she noticed he was lethargic, officials said. He was also revived with Narcan, according to police.
“This death and drug poisonings are every parent’s worst nightmare,” said Frank Tarentino, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in New York. “And clearly define the danger fentanyl poses to every New Yorker. These crimes are unacceptable.”
Authorities said the drug operation at the day care on Morris Avenue was ongoing between July and September. The complaint also said Mendez deleted approximately 21,526 messages from an encrypted messaging app that covered a period between March 30, 2021, and Friday.
“Despite the daily presence of children, including infants, the defendants maintained large quantities of fentanyl, including a kilogram of fentanyl stored on top of children’s playmats,” the criminal complaint stated.
Investigators believe the children were exposed to fentanyl residue and overcome when they took their nap on the mats after an afternoon snack.
A federal agent noted in the complaint: “The defendants maintained in the day care items which are designed for the re-compression of drugs in powder form.”
The complaint also alleged Mendez lied during her interview with police and federal agents, telling them she cleaned the day care approximately six days a week “top to bottom,” suggested the kilo presses found in the center could have been left by a prior occupant, and falsely stated that no one, including her husband, had come into the day care on Friday.
The co-defendant arrested with Mendez is her husband’s cousin, Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41. He came to the United States from the Dominican Republic about a year ago.
When police and agents arrived at the day care on Friday, Mendez told them Acevedo Brito lived in the locked bedroom located inside the day care. The agents instructed Mendez to call the cousin and have him come to the center, according to the complaint.
When law enforcement searched the playroom, bathroom, kitchen and bedroom that made up the premises, they said they found both large quantities of fentanyl as well as machinery and paraphernalia used to package narcotics.
Police said they discovered a packaged, white powdery substance weighing about one kilo in a hallway closet near the bathroom that “field-tested” positive for fentanyl, a deadly opioid that is 50 times more lethal than heroin.
It turned out the fentanyl was stored inside a bag that was stacked on top of pieces of a children’s playmat, according to the complaint.
Law enforcement also found two “kilo press” machines and at least one hydraulic press, along with vacuum bags and a vacuum sealer often found on drug kilos, known as “bricks.”
Acevedo Brito also gave law enforcement agents consent to search his electronic devices. Authorities said messages on Acevedo Brito’s phone made it clear he was involved in narcotics trafficking.
In one message from Aug. 22, Acevedo Brito received messages from a day care employee using the same encrypted messaging app as Mendez. The message indicated that Acevedo Brito “should tell the ‘old guy’ that if he is going to take the garbage out, the police are out there on the side.”
The agent said when Acevedo Brito was interviewed, he “denied knowing anything about the kilo press in the closet of the bedroom” that he rented for $200 a week.
The federal charges filed against Mendez and Acevedo Brito carry a maximum sentence of life in prison and a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.