UNITED STATES NEWS

NYC day care operator tried to cover up fentanyl operation before 1-year-old’s death, feds allege

Sep 19, 2023, 10:57 AM | Updated: 5:34 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — The owner of a New York City day care center where a 1-year-old child died after being exposed to fentanyl took steps to cover up her involvement in a sprawling drug operation, even as medics rushed to treat several children in her care who were poisoned by the opioid, federal prosecutors said.

The day care owner, Grei Mendez, and a man who rented a room from her, Carlisto Acevedo Brito, were hit with new federal narcotics conspiracy charges Tuesday. They were previously charged in state court with murder of “depraved indifference” in the death of 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici.

Authorities said they are currently seeking a third suspect, Mendez’s husband and a cousin to Brito, who fled shortly after learning of the apparent exposure.

Officials say they discovered a kilogram of fentanyl stored on top of playmats used by children who attended the day care, which was run out of a small Bronx apartment. They also found multiple devices for mixing the powder with other narcotics and pressing it into bricks.

The fentanyl is believed to have sickened four children, including Dominici, who died Friday afternoon. Three others — ranging in age from 8 months to 2 years old — were hospitalized.

Appearing in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday, a distraught Mendez held her head in her hands and cried out for her daughter and mother, both in attendance, while denying any knowledge of the drug operation.

The allegations, Mendez’s attorney said, were related to her husband’s actions, not hers.

Federal prosecutors have accused Mendez, 36, of playing a role in both the drug distribution ring and her husband’s escape. On Friday afternoon, after discovering the three children in her care were not waking up from their nap, she made three calls, including two to her husband, before dialing 911, prosecutors said.

Within minutes of those calls, the husband was seen entering the Bronx apartment, then whisking at least two full shopping bags out of the building through a back alley. Emergency personnel arrived shortly after to find the children showing signs of opioid intoxication.

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, according to Brandon Thompson, an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan.

Thompson described Mendez’s conduct as “truly galling” and “unspeakably dangerous,” adding that “her husband has already fled and there’s no reason to believe she wouldn’t also.”

Clay Kaminsky, an attorney assigned to represent Mendez, said the government had tried to pin the “sensational case” on his client without evidence that she had any knowledge of the drugs inside her day care center.

A mother of four with no prior arrests, Mendez has worked in restaurants and as a home health aide since moving to New York from the Dominican Republic nine years ago, Kaminsky added. He denied the allegations of cover up, saying she panicked after finding the sick children and only spoke to her husband for 10 seconds before calling 911.

The federal judge, Jennifer Willis, sided with the prosecutors, ordering Mendez held in federal custody without bail. She is expected to be transferred from Rikers Island to the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal jail.

Brito, a 41-year-old tenant of the apartment for the last two months, was charged alongside Mendez for his alleged role in the drug operations. New York City police said they recovered a kilogram press device inside the closet of an adjoining room occupied by Brito.

He did not speak during the court proceeding. A message left with his attorney wasn’t returned.

Both Brito and Mendez face the possibility of life in prison if convicted on the federal charges.

At a news conference on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Damien Williams said the news of Dominci’s death had “shocked the conscience of a city already reeling from the devastating effects of the fentanyl crisis.”

He noted that New York, like much of the country, has seen rising levels of opioid-related deaths, with the vast majority of fatalities now attributed to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be more than 50 times stronger than heroin.

At an unrelated briefing on Tuesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams offered a blunt description of the tragedy.

“We’ve just become so screwed up as a society. We got to get our acts together,” he said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with us. We had fentanyl in a day care center.”

United States News

FILE - Defendant Kevin Monahan, left, listens to opening statements in his murder trial, Jan. 11, 2...

Associated Press

Man to be sentenced for murdering a woman who was mistakenly driven up his rural New York driveway

FORT EDWARD, N.Y. (AP) — A man who fatally shot a 20-year-old woman in an SUV that was mistakenly driven up his rural driveway in upstate New York is scheduled to be sentenced Friday. Kevin Monahan, 66, was convicted of second-degree murder in the death last April of Kaylin Gillis. Gillis was riding in a […]

2 hours ago

David and Stephanie Joiner pose by part of an artwork, called Greenwood Pond: Double Site, Sunday, ...

Associated Press

Artists outraged by removal of groundbreaking work along Des Moines pond

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Des Moines arts organization is preparing to rip out a groundbreaking artwork that lines a pond in a historic city park, surprising the New York artist who created the work decades ago and leading to an outpouring of opposition by other artists and local residents. The decision to remove […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Parts of the Sierra Nevada likely to get 10 feet of snow from powerful storm by weekend

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The most powerful Pacific storm of the season is forecast to bring up to 10 feet (3 meters) of snow into the Sierra Nevada by the weekend, forcing residents to take shelter and prompting at least one Lake Tahoe ski resort to close Friday. The storm began barreling into the region […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Paramedic Peter Cichuniec attends his arraignment at the Adams County Justice Center in Brig...

Associated Press

Paramedic convictions in Elijah McClain’s death spur changes for patients in police custody

DENVER (AP) — Medical responders across the U.S. are rethinking how they treat people in police custody after a jury last December handed down a rare decision: It convicted two Colorado paramedics for their roles in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain following an overdose of a powerful sedative. As one of the paramedics faces […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Some left helpless to watch as largest wildfire in Texas history devastates their town

STINNETT, Texas (AP) — As the largest wildfire in Texas history engulfed his town, Danny Phillips was left helpless. “We had to watch from a few miles away as our neighborhood burned,” he said, his voice trembling with emotion. In his hard-hit town of Stinnett, population roughly 1,600, families like his who evacuated from the […]

3 hours ago

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies during a hearing on the Georgia election inte...

Associated Press

With salacious testimony finished, legal arguments to begin over Fani Willis’ future in Trump case

ATLANTA (AP) — After several days of extraordinary testimony, the judge in the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald Trump is set to hear arguments Friday over whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should be removed from the prosecution over a romantic relationship. Lawyers for Trump and other defendants in the election […]

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.

...

Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

NYC day care operator tried to cover up fentanyl operation before 1-year-old’s death, feds allege