Bronx day care owner says she had no idea fentanyl was in closet after 1-year-old dies of suspected exposure

20:16 18.09.2023 - NBC News

The owner of the New York City day care center where a 1-year-oldboydied due to apparent opioid exposure says she had no idea drugs were in the Bronx facility.

Grei Mendez, 36, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, were charged with murder with "depraved indifference," manslaughter, assault, endangering the welfare of a child, and criminal possession of a controlled substance. The charges come after four children became sick, and one later died, from apparent fentanyl exposure on Friday at Divino Ni?±o day care.

An attorney for Mendez, Andres Manual Aranda, said Monday, "My client had no knowledge that [drugs] were there. She's the one that called the police. She called 911 and 311."

Officials found a 1-kilogram package containing a "white powdery substance" that was identified as fentanyl inside a hallway closet at the day care, the criminal complaint said.

Authorities also recovered two kilogram press devices inside that same hallway closet and another inside the bedroom where Brito resided, the complaint said. New York Police Department Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said Friday that such devices are "commonly used by drug dealers when packaging large quantities of drugs."

Brito, the cousin of Mendez's husband, had been renting a bedroom in the day care for the past two to three months, Aranda said.

"My client feels terrible for what happened. She feels awful for the children," Aranda said, noting Mendez never noticed other children having symptoms of drug poisoning before.

A plea of not guilty was entered for Mendez and Brito at their arraignment Sunday in Bronx criminal court and both were remanded without bail.

An attorney for Brito could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.

The New York City Police Department said on Friday officers responded to a 911 call at around 2:45 p.m. and found a 1-year-old boy, a 2-year-old boy and an 8-month-old girl "unconscious and unresponsive" inside the day care.

All three children were administered Narcan, the opioid overdose antidote.

The 1-year-old, Nicholas Dominici, was pronounced dead at a Montefiore Medical Center. His cause and manner of death remain under investigation.

The 2-year-old is currently listed in critical condition and the 8-month-old in stable condition.

Police said a fourth child, a 2-year-old boy, was taken to BronxCare Health System by his mother after she picked him up from the day care center around 12:15 p.m. that day. The mother noticed he was acting "lethargic and unresponsive" once they returned home. At the hospital, he was also administered Narcan to save his life. He is in stable condition.

The criminal complaint said that the three surviving children suffered from acute opioid intoxication.

It further revealed that a urine sample from the 8-month-old girl revealed the presence of fentanyl. Additional toxicology tests on biological samples from the other children were done and are pending results, the complaint said.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Authorities have not said how the children came into contact with the drug. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that in cases of children opioid-exposure, nearly all cases involved kids who orally ingested the substance, rather than touching or inhaling it, The Associated Press reported.

The FDNY detected no carbon monoxide nor other environmental toxins in the day care and the day care employees present did not experience "symptoms of poisoning or exposure to environmental toxins," the complaint said.

The home-based day care center had opened in January and passed two routine inspections to secure its license. On Sept. 9, it underwent a surprise inspection by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and no violations were found, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Ashwin Vasan said Friday.

NBC News has reached out to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services for comment.

Mendez is due back in court on Sept. 21 and Brito on Sept. 22.

/ Monday, September 18, 2023, 8:16 PM /

themes:  New York City  New York (state)

Suspected Сmain player' in fentanyl operation at NYC day care where 1-year-old died is being sought by cops

The NYPD is hunting a man believed to be "the main player" in the covert drug-dealing operation at a Bronx day care where a 1-year-old boy died from suspected fentanyl exposure, police sources said Monday.

The suspect - the husband of Grei Mendez De Ventura, 36, the proprietor of Divino Ni?±o Daycare - may have played a key role in the illicit dealings uncovered after the Friday death of little Nicholas Feliz Dominici, the sources said.

He is also the cousin of alleged cohort Caristo Acevedo Brito, 41, who was busted Sunday along with De Ventura.

Brito lived in the basement that also housed the day-care business, where three other children were also exposed to the deadly drug, the sources said.

Those children - two 2-year-old boys and the 8-month-old sister of one of them - were hospitalized, with one in critical condition, according to police.

De Ventura and Brito were charged with murder, manslaughter, assault, drug possession and child endangerment in connection to the disturbing case.

Both were ordered held without bail during their arraignments Sunday night.

Cops responded to a 911 call from the child care center on Morris Avenue near East 196th Street in Kingsbridge shortly after 3:30 p.m. Friday and found three of the children unresponsive - allegedly after being exposed to fentanyl, according to cops.

At least some of the children were administered the opioid overdose reversal medication Narcan to try to save them.

Nicholas was rushed to Montefiore Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

His grief-stricken mother told CBS New York in Spanish that her son, who was going to turn 2 in November, was just getting adjusted to the day care, which he had only started attending the week before his tragic death and which is located within walking distance of the family's home.

"We spoke to the ones who are in charge," she said. "They recommended that place and apparently complied with all of the rules. We were on a waitlist for our son to qualify."

The boy, who was the youngest of five children, was "so intelligent," his mom said.

"He would repeat everything you would say to him," she added. "He had so much love. Everyone who knew him appreciated him, all of our neighbors."

Among the other children hospitalized, one of the 2-year-old boys was listed in critical condition while the 8-month-old girl was in stable condition.

The third toddler was taken to BronxCare Health Systems by an acquaintance and was also listed in stable condition.

Authorities found three "kilogram press devices" - used to package large amounts of drugs - along with a kilo of fentanyl at the day care, prosecutors revealed in court filings.

They also discovered a one-kilogram package of a white, powdery substance - which later tested positive for fentanyl - inside a hallway closet, the court documents state.

De Ventura is due back in court Thursday, and Brito on Friday, the Bronx District Attorney's Office said.

Anguished mom of 1-year-old who died of suspected opioid death at Bronx day care speaks out

The heartbroken mom of 1-year-old Nicholas Feliz Dominici, who died from a suspected opioid overdose at a Bronx daycare being used as a drug front, said her son had only started at the center the week before, as horrifying details were revealed about the drugs strewn about at the scene.

Zoila Dominici and Otoniel Feliz's 1-year-old son Nicholas was still getting adjusted to the day care when he and three other tots fell ill from fentanyl found at the facility on Friday, according to the grief-stricken mother.

 ..... We were on a waitlist for our son to qualify," his mother told CBS New York in Spanish.

Nicholas, who would have celebrated his 2nd birthday in November, was "so intelligent."


The owner of Divino Ni?±o Daycare, Grei Mendez De Ventura, 36, and her alleged cohort, Caristo Acevedo Brito, 41, who lived in the basement along with the drugged-up day-care business, were taken into custody on Saturday.

The pair was charged with murder, assault and child endangerment in the suspected fentanyl-exposure death of 1-year-old Nicholas.

Police have launched a manhunt for Ventura's husband, who lived with her next door and is also sought in the boy's death, sources said.

Nicholas, who was the youngest of five children, and his family lived within walking distance of the home-based day-care center, which was recommended to the family by Kingsbridge Heights Community Center.

The day care, registered under the city's Department of Children and Family Services, only opened this past January but passed a surprise inspection about a week earlier.

"Apparently, the place passed all of the inspections. Supposedly that apartment was only for day cares, but the rumor is, from what we have heard, they also rented rooms," Feliz said.


The children were apparently exposed when the fentanyl was cut in the day-care center and some of it floated into the air, allowing them to inhale it, law enforcement sources explained.

 ..... Friday and found three of the children unresponsive. ..... 

"Look at what happened. If I had known, I wouldn't have taken him," the boy's mother said.

His grieving father added: "The hardest thing is for me to come home and open that door and not see Nicholas saying, СDad, Dad.' It is too hard. We can't. Because the irresponsibility of people that don't know, they don't know that playing with drugs and leaving them where kids can reach them is too dangerous."

The medical examiner's office says Nicholas' exact cause of death is pending.

A criminal investigation into the day-care center is ongoing.

Owner of Bronx day care where 1-year-old died of opioid overdose wasted precious minutes calling alleged drug accomplices before 911: sources

The owner of the Bronx day care where a 1-year-old boy died after inhaling fentanyl called two alleged accomplices in the covert drug operation - including her husband - and a third person before finally dialing 911 for help, law enforcement sources told The Post.

The husband of Grei Mendez De Ventura, the 36-year-old proprietor of Divino Ni?±o Daycare, was also spotted on surveillance footage suspiciously carrying out a large bag before first responders arrived, police sources said.

De Ventura "wasted precious minutes" making the trio of phone calls after little Nicholas Feliz Dominici and three other children were exposed to fentanyl on Friday, one police source said.

"How callous could she be?" asked the incredulous law enforcement source.

De Ventura phoned her husband - who's on the lam and is considered the "main player" in the drug mill - her already-arrested cousin-in-law Carlisto Acevedo Brito, and a friend before seeking medical help around 3:30 p.m.

"She wasted precious minutes, worrying about herself and the drug dealers. When she should've been most concerned about saving these innocent babies' lives," the police source said.

When Nicholas was finally rushed to the hospital, he was pronounced dead.


Before emergency responders arrived, Ventura's husband was seen on surveillance footage showing up to the day care, entering through a back door, staying a few minutes, then leaving with a bag large enough to hold several kilos of illicit drugs, according to sources.

Ventura and her husband spoke numerous times on the phone after he left, police sources said.

She and Brito, 41, have both been arrested and charged with murder, manslaughter, assault, drug possession and child endangerment.

After raiding the day care Friday, cops "discovered a kilogram of fentanyl in an area that was used to give the children naps," NYPD Chief of Detectives Joe Kenny said Monday.

They also found three "kilogram press devices," which are used to package large amounts of drugs.

The kiddies apparently inhaled the drugs after it was cut in the day care center and released into the air, sources said.

Some of the youngsters were administered the opioid overdose drug Narcan. The girl and one of the 2-year-old boys are now in stable condition.

Neighbors said it was an open secret around the neighborhood that the day care was a drug front, explaining that the business opened more than a year ago and adults frequently came and went - but that a child wasn't to be seen in the place until about two months ago.

"We all said, 'Drogas.' How could you not know?" said a longtime resident, 69, who declined to be named.

"It was a day care for a year with no children. For one year, she had a day care with no children but people go in. But no babies?"

"A day care with no children and men coming in and out. Yes, we knew something. We knew something, something was not good happening there," she said.

Despite such accounts, the day care managed to pass a surprise inspection from the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on Sept. 6, according to records.

Divino Ni?±o Daycare is technically under the purview of the state's Office of Children and Family Services - but inspection duties have been outsourced to the city for years at the price of millions in taxpayer dollars.

On Monday, Mayor Eric Adams said inspectors did everything they were supposed to do during their review, but that Ventura and her cohorts had broken a relationship partly "based on trust."

"They [inspectors] did their job. Who did not do their job were the people who were there to protect the children," Adams said. "Everything appeared normal based on the standards we put in place to make sure, surely not in a safe environment."

"Part of this relationship is based on trust and they broke that trust."

Bronx day care center owner, neighbor charged in 1-year-old's death after possible fentanyl exposure

The owner of the Bronx day care center where a 1-year-old boy died after being exposed to what may have been fentanyl on Friday was charged Saturday night with murder along with her neighbor, police announced.

Divino Nino owner Grei Mendez De Ventura, 36, and neighbor Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, were arrested on Saturday and each hit with 11 charges, including depraved-indifference murder, assault and child endangerment after the horrific incident that also sent three children to the hospital, cops said Saturday.

The pair were taken into police custody on Saturday after a search of the building revealed nearly a kilo of fentanyl, as well as multiple kilo presses - a device used to combine fentanyl with other drugs like cocaine and heroin, officials and sources said.

Ventura, who sources say is a native of the Dominican Republic who recently moved to the US, opened the Kingsbridge day care in May and the facility passed a surprise annual inspection Sept. 6, records show.

21-month-old Nicholas Dominici died on Friday after he and three other toddlers - a 1-year-old boy, two 2-year-old boys and an 8-month-old girl - were found unresponsive in the basement after they are believed to have inhaled the deadly drug.

Two of the tots were in cardiac arrest when first responders arrived at the facility, with Nicholas and a 2-year-old boy being given multiple doses of the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, authorities said.

Nicholas was rushed to Montefiore hospital, where he died, police said.


A fourth child, a 2-year-old boy, picked up from the day care center just before 1 p.m. Friday also appeared to have been exposed to drugs.

He was privately transported to BronxCare Health System and is in stable condition, cops said.

In addition to murder, they are each also charged with: manslaughter of a person under 11 years old; manslaughter recklessly causing death; four counts assault causing injury through risk of death; four counts of assault causing injury during a felony; four counts of assault causing serious injury; four counts of reckless assault causing serious injury; three counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance; criminal possession of a controlled substance; criminal possession of narcotics; and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

Friday was the end of Nicholas' first week at the Morris Avenue day care, the boy's grieving father Otoniel Feliz, told reporters.

He said he initially thought his son was sick from carbon monoxide poisoning.

"It was a peaceful place, it seemed like they would take good care [of the kids]. They always keep in contact with us. Everything seemed fine," he said.

"We expected that we were taking our son to a place where he would be taken care of, not to the funeral home."

Police Questioning Person in Suspected Opioid Death at Bronx Day Care

At least one person was in police custody and being questioned on Saturday in connection with the death of a 1-year-old boy who was apparently exposed to an opioid at a state-licensed Bronx day care center on Friday, according to the police.

Three other children were hospitalized after showing signs of opioid exposure at the day care, where the police later found a packaging device typically used by drug dealers, officials said. The New York City medical examiner's office said an autopsy to determine the cause of death of the 1-year-old, whom the police identified as Nicholas Dominici, was scheduled for Saturday.

Joseph E. Kenny, the Police Department's chief of detectives, said at a news briefing shortly after midnight on Saturday that the episode was the subject of an "active criminal investigation." He added that suspicions about opioid exposure were prompted by the children's symptoms and by the discovery of a so-called kilo press - commonly used by drug dealers when packaging large quantities of drugs - at the day care during the execution of a search warrant there.

The police did not name the person or people in custody on Saturday.

The day care, which the police identified as Divino Ni?±o, is on a largely residential tree-lined block on Morris Avenue in the Bronx. According to public records, the day care at that location was registered in May and had capacity for eight children between 6 weeks and 12 years old.

Calls to a number listed for the day care were not immediately returned on Saturday. A woman who answered a phone for Grei F. Mendez De Ventura, a person listed as a contact for the location, said she did not wish to be interviewed.

Officials said the day care had been licensed by the state's Office of Children and Family Services after passing two inspections. A surprise inspection last week by the city's health department on behalf of the state agency found no violations, said Dr. Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

A spokesman with the state agency, Solomon Syed, said he could not comment on an active agency and law enforcement investigation.

According to officials, emergency medical workers responded to a 911 call requesting help for three unconscious children at the day care at 2707 Morris Avenue around 2:45 p.m. on Friday.

When they arrived, they found the 1-year-old boy, a 2-year-old boy and an 8-month-old girl unresponsive. The responders administered the overdose-reversal medication Narcan at the scene and took the children to Montefiore Medical Center.

The police later learned that another 2-year-old-boy, who had left the day care shortly after noon, had been taken to BronxCare Health System hospital after his mother noticed he was lethargic and unresponsive.

By early Saturday, three of the children had regained consciousness and were in critical or stable condition. The 1-year-old boy, who would have turned 2 in November, was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Claire Fahy contributed reporting.

Owner of Bronx day care where 1-year-old died after believed fentanyl exposure, neighbor taken into police custody

The owner of a Bronx day care and a neighbor were taken into police custody Saturday in connection with the death of a 21-month-old boy and the sickening of three other kids from fentanyl found at the facility, sources told The Post.

Charges are pending against Divino Nino owner Grei Mendez De Ventura and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, who sources said hails from the Dominican Republic and is a new arrival in the United States. The 41-year-old Brito's legal status is unclear.

A third suspect, who is believed to have sublet a room inside the child-care center, is still being sought.

Ventura, 36, opened the Morris Avenue day care in May, and the facility passed a surprise annual inspection Sept. ..... 

Nearly a kilo of fentanyl and a kilo press, a device typically used to combine fentanyl with either cocaine or heroin, was found inside the space apartment that was also used by the day care, officials and police sources said.

The children are believed to have inhaled the deadly drug, sources said.

The mother and grandmother of two of the survivors - a 2-year-old boy in critical condition at Montefiore Hospital and his 8-month-old sister - praised the police work.

"It's good, it's very good. I want justice, because what happened here is unbelievable," the mom of the two kids told The Post.

"All guilt will be paid," said the children's grandmother. Both women asked for anonymity.

The horrific scene unfolded around 2:40 p.m. ..... 

Nicholas later died at Montefiore Hospital.


His mother rushed her 2-year-old son to Bronxcare Hospital when she realized the child, who had appeared to have been sleeping, was unresponsive. THe child is recovering, authorities said.

Two facing murder charges in death of 1-year-old after possible opioid exposure while in daycare in Bronx

Two people are facing multiple charges, including murder, in the death of a 1-year-old boy while he was in daycare in the New York City borough of the Bronx.

Grei Mendez, 36, stayed silent as she was walked from a police station in handcuffs Sunday.

Mendez owns Divino Niño Daycare, where one-year-old Nicholas Dominici died and three other children were hospitalized after what authorities say was suspected opioid exposure. First responders had found the babies in cardiac arrest and administered Narcan.

Read more: Police investigating if children were exposed to fentanyl in deadly Bronx daycare incident, sources say

"It's a tragedy for the children. It's a tragedy for her because I don't believe she's involved in what happened, so it's really bad all around for everybody," said Andres Aranda, Mendez's attorney.

Mendez was arraigned Sunday night and denied bail. She faces several charges, along with 41-year-old Carlisto Acevedo Brito, Mendez's husband's cousin.

Mendez was renting a room to Acevedo Brito for $200 a month.

"She just didn't know. She rented a room to somebody, and she didn't know what was going on," Aranda said.

In court, officials said one kilo of fentanyl was found in a closet at the daycare, along with two kilo presses, which are used to process drugs. A third kilo press was found in Acevedo Brito's bedroom, authorities added..

At least one surviving child tested positive for fentanyl.

"The way those kids got hurt I think is something that nobody, nobody deserves that. No mother, no grandmother," neighbor Joanne Martinez said.

"As a father, you always trust other people to take care of your kids when you go to work. This is the last thing you could possibly think would happen to your son," neighbor Hailey Rivera said.

This weekend, Nicholas's grieving parents told CBS News New York the daycare was recommended to them by a community center but was rumored to have been renting out rooms.

"If I had known what would have happened," his mother said in Spanish, "I would not have taken him there."

Read more: Parents of 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici, who died at Bronx daycare, grappling with unimaginable loss

The daycare had passed a city inspection as recently as this month.

"The city's gonna have to step up more and go through every daycare and investigate them good because the way things happened in there, I don't think it was right," Martinez said.

The two suspects are each facing more than 10 charges, including murder, criminal possession of a narcotic and endangering the welfare of a child.

Mendez's next court appearance is scheduled for Thursday morning. Acevido Brito is expected to be arraigned soon.

The medical examiner has yet to determine Nicholas' official cause of death.

2 Charged With Murder in Day Care Death of 1-Year-Old

A day care center operator and her neighbor were charged with murder in the death of a 1-year-old boy who was exposed to opioids at the center, the police said.

Grei Mendez, 36, who ran Divino Ni?±o in the Bronx, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, a 41-year-old man who lived at the address listed for the day care center, were both arrested Saturday evening on a count of murder showing "depraved indifference," four counts of endangering the welfare of a charge, 16 counts of assault, and criminal possession of drugs.

Emergency medical workers arrived at the six-story brick building in the north Bronx around 2:45 p.m. on Friday to find Nicholas Feliz Dominici, who would have turned 2 in November, unconscious. They also found a 2-year-old boy and an 8-month-old girl, both "unconscious and unresponsive," the police said.

All three children showed symptoms of opioid exposure, the police said.

They gave the young children the overdose-reversal medication Narcan and took them away. Another 2-year-old-boy, who had left the small ground-floor day care center shortly after noon, was taken to a hospital after his mother noticed an unusual lethargy had replaced a toddler's normal energy.

Nicholas was pronounced dead at Montefiore Medical Center on Friday. ..... 

"This crisis is real, and it is a real wake-up call for individuals who have opioids or fentanyl in their homes," Mayor Adams said. "The mere contact is deadly for an adult and it's extremely deadly for a child."

The boy's mother, Zoila Dominici, said on Sunday that she arrived at the day care at 3 p.m. on Friday to pick her son up when she saw the police surrounding the building and Ms. Grei inside crying.

Then she got a call from a coordinator of the program telling her Nicholas, who had only been at the day care center five days, was in the hospital.

Nicholas, the youngest of five children, was a smart boy who spoke and learned to count at an early age and was walking by the time he was 10 months old, said Ms. Dominici, a 34-year-old caregiver for older people.

"The other children adored him. He was the little prince of the house," she said. "He shouldn't have died like that."

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