It’s no secret this country — this city — has a fentanyl problem. But for many, it really didn’t hit home until the poisoning death of 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici of Kingsbridge Heights at his Jerome Park day care center.
But Divino Niño, where Dominici died and three other young children were sickened by the drug, wasn’t the only day care center operating as a front for crime, it seems. A short time later, police raided another day care center — this time in East Harlem — accused of making “ghost guns” not far from innocent children entrusted to the center’s care.
The two day cares are probably just the tip of a proverbial iceberg of organized crime using such places as fronts for drug trafficking and drug mills.
In the case of Divino Niño, there were four children — including Domenici — who were allegedly affected simply by lying near the fentanyl that was reportedly hidden under the floors and in closets. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the New York Police Department arrested four people — including the owner — in connection with Dominici’s death and drug-related charges.
A common denominator between both centers is they are operated out of apartments where family members and associates of the owners had access to the center and the children. That’s not to infer that all family-run day cares are dangerous. But it does raise the need for top-notch inspections.
And that’s one area where inspectors gravely failed Divino Niño parents and children. The day care was inspected on Sept. 6, according to children and family services, where it passed with flying colors. It wasn’t until Dominici was found dead that official complaints were filed and the center’s license was suspended.
An interesting part of Divino Niño’s history is it has only been operational since May 16, and had not received a single complaint until the arrests. Children and family services records show the Morris Avenue center has a capacity of eight children, between 6 weeks and 12 years old. Its license was good until mid-2027.
The husband of owner Grei Mendez — and alleged “kingpin” of the drug trafficking operation at the day care center is Felix Herrera Garcia.
He was caught days later in Mexico after reportedly fleeing the center with bags of the drug and other paraphernalia.
So, what are parents and electeds to do? It’s not like they can go after these dangerous drug traffickers themselves. But they can’t even guarantee the day care center they trust their children to is on the up and up.
Mayor Eric Adams is taking a step by calling for a two-day summit with law enforcement and others — including mental hygiene and educational officials — on fentanyl and its dangers. It was scheduled for this week, but it was postponed due to the possibility of a federal government shutdown that ultimately didn’t happen.
While we applaud Mayor Adams first for taking such a first step, more has to be done on the enforcement side. And we’re not just talking about the police.
There has to be more than one inspection of these types of day care centers. It’s so obvious the “bad guys” know how to work around annual inspections. Just look at Divino Niño. They were only open four months, and most likely operating as a drug front — as alleged — before the worst thing imaginable happened.
Yes, they were caught. But it was after the death of an innocent, Nicholas Domenici. And who knows how many similar operations there are in the Bronx, let alone New York City.