NEW YORK (TND) — Two people were charged with murder in connection to the death of a 1-year-old boy and the hospitalization of three children who were allegedly exposed to fentanyl at a New York day care center.
The Southern District of New York District Attorney's Office said the owner of the day care, Grei Mendez, along with Carlisto Acevedo Brito, who rented a room from Mendez, stored "distribution quantities" of fentanyl and narcotics packaging equipment in the Bronx day care, including a kilogram of fentanyl that was found on children’s playmats.
They were also charged with federal narcotics offenses resulting in death.
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 during a media briefing on Tuesday.
Parents entrusted Grei Mendez with the care of their children," Williams added. "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.”
New York City police also recovered a kilogram press device inside the closet of an adjoining bedroom that was occupied by Acevedo Brito.
The child who died was identified as Nicholas Dominici.
He lost his life to just reckless, careless, and total disregard," New York Mayor Eric Adams said during a separate news conference on Monday.
The three other children ranged in age from 8 months to 2 years old.
This is just total madness," he added.
Adams said the three children who lived each received doses of Narcan, which he believes most likely saved their lives. He credited paramedics for their hard work and dedication.
Those first responders identified the symptoms of what these children were experiencing," the mayor said.
Federal prosecutors said Mendez, 36, was involved in a drug operation from at least July 2023 up until her arrest on Saturday. Prosecutors also said she tried to cover up the crimes as medics rushed to treat the children who were poisoned.
Mendez discovered the children were not waking up from nap time on Friday afternoon, Williams said. She then made three calls, including two to her husband, before dialing 911, the criminal complaint alleges.
"Seconds before Mendez called 911, she called a co-conspirator," Williams said. "Minutes later, a co-conspirator arrived at the day care."
Williams said the co-conspirator, later identified as Mendez's husband, entered the Bronx apartment through a back alley and left carrying two full shopping bags.
All of that happened while the children -- the babies -- were suffering from the effects of fentanyl poisoning and in desperate need of help," Williams said.
The phone calls, along with the apparent deletion of thousands of texts between Mendez and her husband, suggested an effort to cover up the narcotics operation inside the apartment, federal prosecutors allege.
This is a tragedy and my heart breaks for the children and their families," Williams said. "But I promise you this -- we are going to keep fighting for justice in this case and in every other case involving this deadly poison. The people of this great city deserve nothing less. I also have a message for anyone out there 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 said authorities were still seeking Mendez’s husband as of Tuesday afternoon. He was not named by either state or federal court filings.
Williams said the charges against Mendez and Acevedo Brito carry a maximum sentence of life in prison and a minimum of 20 years behind bars.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Associated Press contributed to this report.