Just more than a week before an infant died and three other children were hospitalized for drug poisoning at a Kingsbridge Heights day center, a New York City agency gave the center a clean bill of health.
The Office of Children and Family Services conducted an annual unannounced inspection at Divino Niño day care on Sept. 6 that apparently cited no violations. It was only after Kingsbridge Heights 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici died Sept. 15 from being exposed to fentanyl that violations were found at the facility and the center’s license was suspended on Sept. 19.
The OCFS inspection checklist from Sept. 6 showed the center seemingly passed with flying colors, with the center allegedly being compliant in keeping poisonous, toxic, flammable and dangerous items inaccessible to children, and storing all medications and toxic substances to prevent a hazard.
The checklist paints a completely different picture than that of those released following Dominici’s death on Sept. 15. A series of photos taken by The New York Post showed food and water in the kitchen haphazardly left on a stove burner, in the sink and atop a fridge. Photos released by the U.S. attorney’s office showed kilo press devices were discovered inside the center as well as a trapdoor concealing bags of fentanyl and other narcotics.
Police realized pretty quickly that the center was being used as a front for selling drugs. So far four people connected to the day care center at 2707 Morris Ave. have been arrested, including the owner, Grei Mendez, neighbor Carlisto Acevedo Brito, Highbridge resident Renny Parra “El Gallo” Paredes, and most recently Mendez’ husband Felix Herrera Garcia.
Herrera Garcia was charged on Sept. 18 with federal crimes in connection to Dominici’s fentanyl-linked death. He was charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics resulting in death in connection with the poisoning of four children under 3, according to a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court.
He was caught on surveillance camera carrying bags of what is believed to be the drugs and other paraphernalia out an alley behind the day care center after 911 calls were placed on Sept. 15, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.
Herrera Garcia is in custody and was presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Berg in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York.
He was originally processed in a California court because he was captured by Mexican authorities this week after fleeing the day care center on Sept. 15, a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release stated.
“Let me be clear: when it comes to protecting our communities and seeking justice, there are no boundaries. No safe havens. And no stones left unturned,” said federal Drug Enforcement Administration administrator Anne Milgram. “This case is a stark reminder of the evil we face.”
New York Police Department commissioner Edward Caban also gave a stark warning to those engaged in fentanyl drug mills.
“New York City law enforcement has a very long reach, and anyone who participates in the distribution of fentanyl in our communities will be held fully accountable,” he said. “Today’s charges reflect abhorrent criminality that will always be intolerable here, and the NYPD and our dedicated state and federal partners vow to investigate and arrest all those responsible.”
The other three are also facing both federal and city charges. Those charges include manslaughter, murder, conspiracy to distribute narcotics resulting in death, endangering the welfare of a child and assault.
The day care’s owner, Mendez, pulled her 2-year-old son from the day care last year after she worried he was exhibiting signs of fentanyl exposure, ABC News was told by law enforcement sources familiar with the case. Nonetheless, Mendez seemingly had no problem with keeping the day care open for other parents to send their children.
Weeks ago Mayor Eric Adams defended the city inspectors who were getting fingers pointed at them.
“I want to be extremely clear: that inspector did their job,” Adams said then in an appearance on NY1, according to New York Daily News. “And we should not in any way give an impression that inspector failed those children and their families. They went through, they opened closets, they did all the things they were supposed to do. That inspector did their job.”
That blame should be directed at the day care employees who were supposed to protect the children there, he said.