A New York City daycare owner is facing federal charges after multiple children in her care were discovered to have fentanyl in their systems, including a 1-year-old boy who died from fentanyl poisoning.
Two boys, both 2-years-old, were found unresponsive in the basement of the daycare alongside an 8-month-old girl. The 1-year-old who died was named Nicholas Dominici.
Grei Mendez De Ventura, 36, the owner of the Divino Nino daycare in the Bronx, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, were both charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics, resulting in the 1-year-old's death, and with narcotics distribution resulting in death. The maximum penalty for the two counts is life in prison, and the minimum penalty is 20 years, the Department of Justice said in a statement on Tuesday.
The daycare owner and Brito conspired with others to distribute fentanyl from July to September. The defendants reportedly stored large quantities of fentanyl at the center despite the presence of young children, including on top of the children's playmats, according to the DOJ.
“In addition, the defendants maintained in the daycare items purpose-built for the distribution of large quantities of narcotics, including three so-called ‘kilo presses,’ which are designed for the recompression of drugs in powder form commonly used by narcotics traffickers at ‘mills’ or other locations where narcotic drugs are broken down, combined with fillers, and portioned for sale,” the statement read.
One of the kilo presses was kept inside a closet inside Brito’s bedroom at the daycare center where he lived and phone messages suggest that he was involved in narcotics trafficking. Brito is the cousin of one of the unnamed conspirators.
Mendez is also accused of working with an unnamed conspirator to conceal the evidence before the arrival of emergency personnel. As the children lay unresponsive, the daycare owner called the co-conspirator before calling 911, who later exited the center through the back alley carrying two shopping bags.
“Parents entrusted Grei Mendez with the care of their children,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York stated. “As alleged, instead of diligently safeguarding the well-being 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,” Williams added.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco promised that the DOJ would hold accountable anyone who contributes to “the supply-and-delivery chain that is flooding fentanyl into our communities.”
“We will not rest in our efforts to protect the vulnerable,” Monaco stated.
As Fox News reported, NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny revealed during a Monday press conference that authorities discovered a kilogram of fentanyl underneath a mat that the children used to take naps.
The children transported to the hospital for fentanyl poisoning "seemed to be demonstrating an exposure to an opioid," Kenny said. "Quick thinking FDNY, EMS personnel administered Narcan to these three children and removed them to Montefiore Hospital. Unfortunately, the 1-year-old did not survive and died at the hospital."
He added that medical testing on all three children showed that they all had fentanyl in their systems.
"NYPD detectives later learned that an additional child, only 2 years old, had been removed from the same location at 12:15 that afternoon by his mother. This child also began to exhibit symptoms of opioid exposure," Kenny said. "The child was taken to the Bronx Lebanon Hospital staff quickly administered Narcan, saving that child's life."
Following the arrest and subsequent charges, Mendez’s license was suspended Tuesday.