KINGSBRIDGE, The Bronx (WABC) -- Two people already in custody over the death of a 1-year-old at a Bronx day care are facing federal charges.
Grei Mendez, the day care owner, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito were charged with narcotics possession with intent to distribute resulting in death and conspiracy to distribute narcotics resulting in death in connection with the overdose of four children under the age of three, one of whom died, at the day care.
Police are still searching for Mendez's husband for questioning. They say he was caught on video fleeing the scene amid the deadly fentanyl exposure on Friday.
First responders were summoned on Friday afternoon to Divino Nino Daycare on 2707 Morris Ave. for reports of cardiac arrest.
Nicholas Dominici, 1, died after police say he was exposed to fentanyl that was in the day care.
Acevedo Brito, 41, and Mendez, 36, 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 Tuesday. 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.
ER doctor from St. Barnabas explains dangers of fentanyl to children and what to do in an emergency on Eyewitness News Mornings @ 10.
A kilogram of fentanyl was stored on top of children's playmats used for napping at the day care, according to the criminal complaint.
"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 on Monday.
"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."
The father of one of the 2-year-old boys said it is a miracle that his son Jaziel Lino survived the fentanyl exposure and it was only his son's fourth day at the day care. He is now back at home.
Lino's father said now looking back, he finds it suspicious that there were three men standing outside of the day care on that Thursday and that Friday.
However, Otoniel Feliz, Dominici's father, is mourning and processing how he lost his son at a place he assumed was safe.
"I love him, I miss him, I want him back - but there's nothing that will give me back my son - when I came home from work and walked through the door, he'd say 'daddy, daddy!'" said Otoniel Feliz. "My wife was on her way to the day care. She was going to pick him up early. Shortly before she arrives, she receives the call and also sees the ambulance."
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 Grand Jury is scheduled to be convened on Thursday.
NYC RESOURCE FOR PARENTS OR CAREGIVERS: Choosing Child Care in New York City