KINGSBRIDGE, The Bronx (WABC) -- Crime scene investigators Thursday returned to the Bronx day care where a 1-year-old died and three other children were injured after it's believed they were exposed to fentanyl.
Investigators also returned Wednesday night and executed a search warrant for hidden drugs. They located a trap door in the floor of the apartment located in the play area where a large quantity of fentanyl, other narcotics, and drug paraphernalia were recovered.
Authorities have already found a kilo of fentanyl stored on playmats along with a device to press drugs into bricks for sale, according to court records.
The case of the two suspects, owner Grei Mendez, 36, and her tenant Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, returned to criminal court in the Bronx where they're charged with murder in connection with the death of Nicholas Dominici. The defendants did not appear but their lawyers did and the case was continued to October 5.
Additionally on Thursday, a grand jury in the Bronx returned an indictment charging Mendez and her tenant in connection with the death of the 1-year-old and the poisonings of three other children. The charges remain sealed until the two appear for arraignment at a later date but they had initially been taken into custody for murder.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark vowed to get justice for the children.
"I may have not given birth to them, I may not have been parents who sent them to that day care center, but every single person in this county feels what they feel, that they entrusted day care center to take care of their children," Clark said.
Mendez and Brito remain in federal custody after they were ordered held without bail in connection to federal drug trafficking charges. A search for Mendez's husband, who court records said was seen on video fleeing the day care out a back alley, is ongoing.
It all started when first responders were summoned last Friday afternoon to Divino Nino Daycare for reports of cardiac arrest. Dominici died after police say he was exposed to fentanyl that was in the day care.
Acevedo Brito and Mendez were dealt 11 charges including murder, manslaughter, and assault. Officials say Brito is a tenant who was renting a room from Mendez and is is the cousin of Mendez's husband.
The defendants tried to cover up the overdoses of the babies, prosecutors said. Investigators discovered video of someone "carrying two full shopping bags" out of the day care, leaving the children suffering the effects inside and in desperate need of help.
Detectives have learned that Mendez talked to her husband several times, before calling 911, in the immediate aftermath of Friday afternoon's tragedy. Prosecutors say Mendez deleted 20,000 text messages from her phone before she was arrested, but they managed to recover them.
"The defendants alleged conduct that led to those poisonings is unconscionable, it's inexcusable, and it's the reason that they are now in federal custody," said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams.
Since July, the two people charged conspired to distribute fentanyl at the day care where they maintained large quantities of fentanyl "despite the daily presence of children, including infants," the complaint said.
Officials say the defendants also kept at the day care kilo presses, which are designed for the re-compression of drugs in powder form commonly used by narcotics traffickers at mills or other locations where drugs are broken down, combined with fillers or other narcotics, and portioned for sale.
"As a consequence of the defendants' drug conspiracy, on or about September 15, 2023, at the day care, four children, who were all under three years of age, appeared to have experienced the effects of poisoning from exposure to fentanyl. Three of the children were hospitalized with serious injuries. The fourth child, a one year-old boy, has died," the complaint said.
Mendez called 911 at 2:40 p.m. to report children in her care were unresponsive. Dominici was pronounced dead at the hospital, where the others, who range in age from 8 months to 2 years, were given Narcan. An analysis of urine from one of the victims confirmed the presence of fentanyl in the child's body.
The DEA's Frank Tarentino said fentanyl now represents the "most urgent threat" the nation faces.
"Fentanyl is exquisitely dangerous," New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan said. "I use the word exquisitely because I don't have another word to describe how dangerous this drug is."
An emotional Mayor Eric Adams expressed outrage at the crime earlier this week.
"This is total madness that we lost a child to this dangerous substance," Adams said. "And we almost lost four children to this dangerous substance. There needs to be a full national assault on this drug entering our city."
Prosecutors said Mendez participated in the "reckless, depraved act" by renting Brito the room in the day care.
Mendez's attorney said his client was unaware drugs were being stored in her day care by her husband's cousin, who she was renting a room for $200 a week.
"Her only crime was renting her room to someone who had a kilo," attorney Andres Aranda said. "There is no evidence that she did anything but care properly for these children."
WATCH | ER doctor from St. Barnabas explains dangers of fentanyl to children and what to do in an emergency on Eyewitness News Mornings @ 10.
The day care, for children between 6 weeks and 12 years old, recently opened in January and just passed a surprise visit from city inspectors last week with no violations found.
When asked if the circumstances that led up to the incident fell through the cracks, Adams insisted that the city did its job and that inspections, including the surprise visit, and background checks were performed.
"Who did not do their job are the people who were there to protect the children," Adams said. "Part of this relationship is based on trust, that those who are taking care of our children are going to do it in a safe manner. They broke that trust."
After the children were removed from the day care, the fire department tested the air for environmental hazards and found no evidence of carbon monoxide. Officials then began to suspect opioid exposure and executed a search warrant to search the rooms, cabinets, and other spaces, where a drug packaging device was found.
A recent court filing showed Mendez was behind on her rent for 2707 Morris Ave. by several thousand dollars.
NYC RESOURCE FOR PARENTS OR CAREGIVERS: Choosing Child Care in New York City
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