Fentanyl stored on top of playmats at Bronx day care where baby fell ill and later died, officials say

18:51 19.09.2023 - NBC News

The owner of the New York City day care center where a 1-year-old boy fell ill an d later d ied , and three other kids got sick from apparent opioid exposure, has been hit with federal drug conspiracy charges.

Grei Mendez, 36, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, were both charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics resulting in death and possession with intent to distribute narcotics resulting in death in the Southern District of New York, according to a complaint unsealed Tuesday.

The complaint charges the two of conspiring together to distribute fentanyl in the Bronx home day care "Divino Ni?±o" that saw four children fall ill and resulted in the death of 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici on Friday.

Mendez and Brito - the cousin of Mendez's husband who was renting a bedroom in the daycare- worked together from July to September, the complaint alleged.

An attorney for Mendez, Andres Manual Aranda, told NBC News Monday, she had no idea drugs were in the building and she called 911 when she saw something wrong with the kids.

The complaint, written by a Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent, alleges that they stored drugs in the day care space.

"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 complaint said, noting the drugs were found in the hallway closet.

Additionally, two kilo presses - devices used by drug dealers when packaging large quantities of drugs - were found in the hallway closet along with a third one in Brito's bedroom.

The complaint revealed that before calling police 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.

Her first call to him was unanswered, the second lasted just over 10 seconds.

After speaking to 911, she called her husband several more times.

Several minutes before emergency personnel arrived to 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," the complaint said.

Instead of leaving through the front door, he exited through the back alley.

The law enforcement officer who wrote the complaint called the behavior consist with "attempting to remove materials from the day care to avoid their discovery by law enforcement."

A search of Mendez's phone found that she deleted over 21,000 messages from an encrypted messaging application, where she exchanged messages with her husband from March 2021 to Friday.

A review of the deleted encrypted messages found that Mendez informed her husband that law enforcement was asking questions about him, the complaint said. He told her to tell them that he was working and she told him to look for a lawyer. She allegedly deleted the messages before law enforcement got to the day care.

A review of Brito's electronic devices showed he exchanged numerous messages with others that "indicate his participation in narcotics trafficking," the complaint said.

Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference Tuesday that authorities are still searching for Mendez's husband.

Williams said: "This is something we're gonna run to ground. Those drugs came from somewhere. We're gonna make sure we get it all the way back to the source."

/ Tuesday, September 19, 2023, 6:51 PM /

themes:  New York City  New York (state)

Fentanyl found under trap door at the Bronx day care where a baby fell ill and later died

Investigators have found more fentanyl hidden under a trap door at the New York City daycare where a 1-year-old boy fell ill and later died and three other kids got sick from apparent opioid exposure last week, police said.

Detectives discovered the trap door in the play area of the day care center while carrying out a search warrant on Wednesday, the New York City Police Department said in an update Thursday.

Concealed under the trap door, they found fentanyl, other narcotics and drug paraphernalia, the department said, with photos shared by police showing several bags appearing to have been hidden under a floorboard. It was not immediately clear what the other narcotics were.

The NYPD did not immediately respond to an overnight request for more information.

The discovery comes after the owner of the "Divino Ni?±o" day care, Grei Mendez, 36, and alleged accomplice Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, were hit with federal charges earlier this week in connection with the death of 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici.


The complaint alleged that drugs had also been stored in a hallway closet on top of children's playmats at the facility. ..... 15 incident. Aranda could not immediately be reached for comment early Friday.

The complaint alleged that she had actually made three other calls before calling police at 2:40 p.m. ET. The first was to another employee at the day care at 2:39 p.m. ..... 

Mendez called her husband several more times after speaking with 911, the complaint said. ..... 

The complaint said the husband's behavior was consistent with an effort to "remove materials from the day care to avoid their discovery by law enforcement."

 ..... The messages were deleted before police arrived at the day care, according to the complaint.


The NYPD said the investigation into the Sept. 15 incident was still ongoing.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a 24/7 National Helpline for individuals with substance abuse issues and their family members. The hotline, which offers assistance in English and Spanish, can be reached at 800-662-HELP (4357). To find behavioral health treatment services, visit SAMHSA's website.

Fentanyl discovered in hazardous spots at Bronx day care, leading to tragedy

In a shocking update to the tragic incident at the "Divino Ni?±o" day care center in New York City, investigators have made a startling discovery. Hidden under a trap door in the play area of the day care, detectives found not only fentanyl, but also other narcotics and drug paraphernalia. The New York City Police Department shared photos showing several bags concealed under a floorboard, raising concerns about the extent of drug activity at the facility. It remains unclear what the other narcotics were, and the NYPD has not responded to requests for further information.

This discovery comes in the wake of federal charges being filed against the owner of the day care, Grei Mendez, and her alleged accomplice, Carlisto Acevedo Brito. Both Mendez and Brito have been charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics resulting in death and possession with intent to distribute narcotics resulting in death. These charges are directly related to the death of 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici, as well as the illness of three other children who were exposed to opioids at the facility.

According to a complaint written by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, drugs were not only hidden under the trap door but also stored in a hallway closet on top of children's playmats. The complaint also mentioned the presence of two kilo presses, commonly used by drug dealers to package large quantities of drugs. Shockingly, a third kilo press was found in Brito's bedroom.

The details of the incident and subsequent investigation have further highlighted the suspicious behavior of Mendez and her husband. It was revealed that Mendez made multiple calls before finally dialing 911, including one to another employee at the day care and two to her husband. Surveillance footage captured her husband entering the day care and leaving shortly after, carrying what appeared to be two shopping bags "weighted with contents." He left through the back alley, raising suspicions that he was trying to remove evidence from the scene.

The complaint also revealed that Mendez had deleted over 21,000 messages from an encrypted messaging application on her phone. These messages allegedly contained conversations with her husband about law enforcement inquiries, with her advising him to say he was working and to search for a lawyer. The fact that the messages were deleted before the arrival of the police suggests an attempt to conceal evidence.

Meanwhile, investigators have discovered that Brito had exchanged messages with others indicating his involvement in narcotics trafficking. This further supports the allegations of drug activity at the day care.

The investigation into the incident on September 15th is still ongoing, with authorities determined to trace the source of the drugs. ..... S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, stated that they are actively searching for Mendez's husband in order to unravel the full extent of the drug operation. Williams emphasized the importance of tracing the drugs back to their source.

In light of this troubling incident, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has provided a helpline for individuals struggling with substance abuse issues and their families. The helpline, available in both English and Spanish, offers assistance and support. Additionally, those seeking behavioral health treatment services can find resources on the SAMHSA website.

As the investigation continues, the focus remains on uncovering the full extent of the drug operation and ensuring justice for the victims involved. The shocking discovery of hidden narcotics and drug paraphernalia at the day care raises concerns about the safety and well-being of children in such facilities. Authorities are determined to hold those responsible accountable and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

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."

Suspects in Fentanyl death at Bronx day care get federal charges: U.S. Attorney

NEW YORK - The two people arrested in the death of 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici at a day care facility in the Bronx are now facing federal charges.

That's because of the amount of drugs found.

Three other kids were hospitalized after being exposed to fentanyl that was allegedly being processed at the site.

Police said they found a kilogram of fentanyl hidden beneath the mat the children were napping on.

Watch federal charges get announced in Bronx day care fentanyl death

Federal officials held a news conference to discuss the federal charges Tuesday. We brought that news conference to you live on CBS News New York.

"This case is different. We allege the defendants poisoned four babies, and killed one of them, because they were running a drug operation from a day care center. A day care center - a place where children should be kept safe, not surrounded by a drug that can kill them in an instant," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.

Williams said the Grei Mendez tried to cover up the fentanyl operation before calling emergency responders. Mendez and her husband's cousin Carlisto Acevedo Brito are under arrest on murder and drug charges.

"As alleged in the complaint, before emergency personnel arrived at the day care, before they arrived, Mendez and a co-conspirator tried to cover up what happened. Seconds before Mendez called before 911, she called a co-conspirator. Minutes later, a con-conspirator arrived at the day care. Minutes later, he left the day care and fled out the back alley, carrying two full shopping bags. And all of that happened while the children, the babies, were suffering from the effects of fentanyl poisoning and in desperate need of help."

"In my 32 years of government service, 25 of which has been spent serving with the DEA, there is no more devastating news or tragedy than the loss of a child, and every New Yorker should be outraged by this senseless tragedy," DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarentino said.

Fentanyl is "the most urgent threat in our nation"

Tarentino said more 110,000 Americans have died as a result of drug poisoning.

"Fentanyl is a killer. Fentanyl crept into our illicit drug supply like a cancer, slowly and deceptively, and it is now in everything, everywhere, killing victims instantly and indiscriminately. Fentanyl is the most urgent threat in our nation and the tragedy that unfolded in the Bronx at the Divino Nino day care center demonstrates the danger that fentanyl poses to every New Yorker," Tarentino said.

"This is a tragedy, and my heart breaks for the children and their families. But I promise you this: We're going to keep fighting for justice, in this case and every other case involving this deadly poison," Williams said. "I also have a message for anyone out there who is selling fentanyl: Stop pushing this poison. It kills. It ruins lives, and it will ruin yours too when we catch you, convict you, and send you to federal prison."

Williams called fentanyl a "public health crisis."

"I'm a lawyer, I'm a United States Attorney here, but I'm a father," Williams said. "Common sense dictates when you drop off your baby, you expect your baby to be kept safe. I don't think there's any other way to look at it as incredibly reckless. It's an incredibly reckless thing to do, to endanger life like that."

Williams said the federal charges carry a range of 20 years to life in prison.

Web Extra: Read the federal complaint (.pdf)

We also have new photos of what police said are drugs and paraphernalia from inside the day care.

The pictures show what is alleged a kilo of fentanyl, and a kilo press, which is a device used to package narcotics.

Investigators are trying to find the husband of the Divino Nino day care's owner.

Watch: Adams blasts fentanyl problem after Bronx day care death

City officials defended their inspectors who had given the center the OK days earlier.

"I'm very sorry, but one of the things my child care inspectors are not trained to do is look for fentanyl. But maybe we need to start," said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan.

Related story:Yale researcher finds alarming rise in child fentanyl deaths nationwide

"That little piece, that little corner, about less than the size of a fingernail. A tenth of a size of a fingernail can kill and adult. So imagine what it could do to a child," said Mayor Eric Adams, highlighting the drug's potency.

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