Illegal drug trafficking activity at a day care in the Bronx led to an inadvertent tragedy after a 1-year-old boy named Nicholas Feliz Dominici lost his life due to acute fentanyl intoxication.
Authorities say the day care facility, called Divino Niño Daycare, allegedly served as a front for a drug mill, where the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl was produced.
The child’s father recently expressed his shock and grief, stating that the family had placed their trust in the day care’s owner, Grei Mendez.
Mendez, along with her husband, Felix Herrera Garcia, and his cousin, Carlisto Brito, was indicted on murder charges, among other serious charges, at Bronx Supreme Court.
Nicholas’s father, Otoniel Feliz, described how Mendez regularly sent text updates about his son during the brief time he was enrolled at Divino Niño Daycare.
“We trusted her,” Feliz said, holding a photo of his late son.
In the wake of Nicholas’ tragic death, three other children at the day care, including an 8-month-old girl, her 2-year-old brother and another 2-year-old boy, fell seriously ill due to fentanyl exposure.
Both had to be revived using Naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug.
Authorities allege that Mendez, Herrera Garcia and Brito operated a fentanyl mill out of the day care’s basement, endangering the children under their care.
The defendants were found to have stored fentanyl, along with “kilo presses” used to combine drugs like cocaine or heroin, under trap doors within the day care and in closets atop play mats.
A week after the initial discovery, more drugs were found concealed under a trap door at the day care, including six kilos of fentanyl, heroin and other controlled substances.
“This was not really a day care center — this was a drug operation. And they used babies as a shield. I’m outraged,” Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said at a press conference.
Herrera Garcia, described as “The main player” in the alleged drug business, faces federal drug charges related to Nicholas’ death. He was apprehended by Mexican authorities after a 10-day escape.
The case is related to ongoing investigations into fentanyl trafficking in New York City.
Just blocks away from the day care center, investigators with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), NYPD and New York State Police (NYSP) seized roughly 40 pounds of suspected fentanyl with an estimated street value of $1.5 million.
According to a press release by the DEA, defendant Juan Gabriel Herrera Vargas was arrested carrying 30 pounds of fentanyl bricks in a rolling suitcase on the subway and sidewalks, as witnessed on surveillance footage.
Speaking on the broader issue of fentanyl trafficking, Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan noted the brazen actions of those involved and their disregard for public safety.
She also commended law enforcement’s dedication to protecting the city from the dangers of fentanyl.
“We will continue to work tirelessly with all of our law enforcement partners to protect out city from the scourge of deadly fentanyl. I commend members of the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force and my office’s Investigators Unit and Special Investigations Bureau for their work on this case.”
DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarentino explained how drug mills operate throughout the city.
“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,” Tarentino said.
“I applaud the members of the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force, Office of Special Narcotic Prosecutor, and Bronx District Attorney’s Office for their diligent work.”
Despite ongoing efforts to combat the spread of fentanyl and prevent overdose deaths, the situation remains dire. The CDC reported that in 2022, approximately 70% of drug overdoses and poisonings in the United States involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl. In New York City alone, 3,026 people succumbed to overdoses in 2022.
The DEA will continue its efforts to address the fentanyl poisoning epidemic, hosting the second annual Family Summit on Fentanyl Poisoning Epidemic to raise awareness about the fentanyl crisis.