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Fentanyl found under trapdoor at Bronx day care after baby died

Investigators have found more fentanyl hidden under a trapdoor at the New York City day care where a 1-year-old boy fell ill and later died and three other children got sick from apparent opioid exposure last week, police said.

Detectives discovered the trapdoor in the play area of the day care center while carrying out a search warrant Wednesday, the New York City Police Department said in an update Thursday.

Concealed under the trapdoor, fentanyl, other narcotics and drug paraphernalia were found, the department said, with photos shared by police showing several bags appearing to have been hidden under a floorboard. It was not immediately clear what the other narcotics were.

The NYPD did not immediately respond to an overnight request for more information.

In this photo provided by the New York City Police Department, narcotics, including fentanyl, and drug paraphernalia lie stored in the floor of a day care center on  Sept. 21, 2023, in New York.
Police said the narcotics, including fentanyl, and drug paraphernalia, were concealed by plywood and tile flooring.NYPD / AP

The discovery comes after the owner of the “Divino Niño” day care, Grei Mendez, 36, and alleged accomplice Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, were hit with federal charges earlier this week in connection with the death of 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici.

Both Mendez and Brito were charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics resulting in death and possession with intent to distribute narcotics resulting in death in the Southern District of New York, according to a complaint written by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent that was unsealed Tuesday.

The complaint alleged that drugs had also been stored in a hallway closet on top of children’s playmats at the facility. Two kilo presses, devices typically used by drug dealers to package large quantities of drugs, were also alleged to have been found in the closet along with a third one in the owner’s bedroom.

Mendez and Brito, the cousin of Mendez’s husband who was renting a bedroom at the day care, had been working together from July to September, according to the complaint.

An attorney for Mendez, Andres Manual Aranda, told NBC News on Monday that Mendez had “no knowledge” drugs were at the facility and that she had called 911 when she realized something was wrong with the children in the Sept. 15 incident. Aranda could not immediately be reached for comment early Friday.

The complaint alleged that she had actually made three other calls before calling police at 2:40 p.m. ET. The first was to another employee at the day care at 2:39 p.m. The latter two were made to someone she later said was her husband, with the first call going unanswered and the second lasting just over 10 seconds.

Mendez called her husband several more times after speaking with 911, the complaint said. And surveillance footage showed her husband entering the day care before emergency personnel arrived and leaving two minutes later through the back alley carrying what appeared to be two shopping bags “weighted with contents,” it said.

The complaint said the husband’s behavior was consistent with an effort to “remove materials from the day care to avoid their discovery by law enforcement.” 

Authorities said a search of Mendez’s phone also found she had deleted more than 21,000 messages from an encrypted messaging application where she had exchanged messages with her husband from March 2021 to the day of the deadly incident.

In the deleted messages, Mendez was found to have told her husband that law enforcement was asking questions about him, according to the complaint. He responded that she should tell them he was working, while she told him to look for a lawyer. The messages were deleted before police arrived at the day care, according to the complaint.

Meanwhile, a review of Brito’s electronic devices found he had exchanged messages with others indicating his “participation in narcotics trafficking,” the complaint said.

The NYPD said the investigation into the Sept. 15 incident was still ongoing.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a 24/7 National Helpline for individuals with substance abuse issues and their family members. The hotline, which offers assistance in English and Spanish, can be reached at 800-662-HELP (4357). To find behavioral health treatment services, visit SAMHSA’s website.

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