BRONX, New York (WABC) -- Felix Herrera Garcia, the husband of the owner of the Bronx day care where a 1-year-old died of suspected fentanyl poisoning, returned Thursday to the United States and was placed under arrest after he was initially taken into custody in Mexico earlier this week.
Herrera Garcia is due to make an initial appearance in federal court in San Diego later Thursday before he is brought to New York where he faces federal charges, along with three others, including his wife, in connection with the death of Nicholas Dominici and the poisonings of three other children at Divino Nino day care.
The death of little Nicholas highlighted how New York City is awash in fentanyl, which is now the most common drug involved in overdose deaths in the city. In response, Mayor Eric Adams said Thursday he would convene a fentanyl summit next week.
"As opioid use skyrockets, illegal drugs are often contaminated with fentanyl or other dangerous substances, and overdoses have hit historic levels, including in New York City," Adams said. "We cannot allow this crisis to continue taking lives and destroying communities."
Herrera Garcia was seen on surveillance video carrying shopping bags and running from the day care out a back alleyway before first responders arrived to tend to the ailing children, according to prosecutors.
NYPD officers and DEA agents tracked him to Texas on Sunday but learned Monday he had managed to slip across the southern border into Rosalia, Mexico. Working with Mexican authorities, the DEA and other federal agents isolated him Tuesday on a bus headed to Sinaloa.
"Felix Herrera was arrested for his alleged role in running a fentanyl mill hidden inside a Bronx day care, which caused the tragic death of a one-year-old boy and seriously injured three other children. Herrera's arrest on the other side of the nation reflects our tireless pursuit of Herrera, who fled the day care even as the children he abandoned inside were suffering from his poisonous trade," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.
Herrera Garcia did not go through extradition. Rather, he was expelled by Mexico and walked across the border into California where he was detained by Customs and Border Protection, law enforcement sources familiar with the case told ABC News.
He is charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics resulting in death in connection with the poisoning of four children under the age of three. He faces up to life in prison.
Herrera Garcia was known to law enforcement since last October, when he called 911 to report a 42-year-old man, believed to be his brother, unconscious on a bedroom floor with pills. The man later died from an apparent overdose.
Authorities also said his wife, day care owner Grei Mendez, pulled their 2-year-old son from their own day care after he exhibited signs of fentanyl exposure.
According to sources, she never reported the suspected exposure to police and did not allow the boy to return to the facility, but kept the day care open for other children -- one of the many factors that contributed to the level of charges brought against her, officials said.
Her attorney has said she didn't know about the drugs.
Authorities also announced Thursday that they seized over 40 pounds of fentanyl from a suspected drug mill six blocks away from the day care.
Authorities say 42-year-old Juan Gabriel Herrera Vargas was caught transporting fentanyl in a rolling suitcase on the subway.
"The public outcry after the poisoning death of a toddler was not enough to stop a drug mill from operating just six blocks away from that day care," DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarentino. "Trafficking organizations use these toxic mills to prepare and package bulk drugs into street-ready glassines for distribution for one reason- profit. Mills lurk throughout our city in apartments, basements or even under floorboards and that is why DEA and our law enforcement partners don't stop working. Herrera Vargas took danger one step further and wheeled over 40 pounds of fentanyl around the city and on the subway with no regard to public safety."