By Celina Tebor, CNN
New York (CNN) — Two people were charged with federal drug crimes in the overdose death of a 1-year-old boy and the hospitalization of three other children at a day care in the Bronx, according to a complaint filed in the Southern District of New York on Monday.
Grei Mendez, 36, and Carlisto Acevedo Brito, 41, who were earlier charged in state court with murder, were charged in federal court with conspiracy to distribute narcotics resulting in death and possession with intent to distribute narcotics resulting in death.
Both defendants face up to life in prison on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute narcotics resulting in death and possession with intent to distribute narcotics resulting in death. During a court appearance Tuesday, Mendez and Brito were ordered to remain in federal custody until their next hearing after prosecutors argued they both pose a flight risk.
According to court documents, Mendez is the owner and operator of the day care, and Brito is her husband’s cousin and a tenant who resides in a bedroom within the day care.
The charges stem from the death of a 1-year-old on Friday after he and three others were exposed to suspected opioids at the Divino Niño day care in the Bronx.
The incident has “shocked the conscience of the city,” Damian Williams, US Attorney for the Southern District, told reporters Tuesday.
The two defendants, with co-conspirators, ran a fentanyl distribution business out of the building, Williams said. He also said law enforcement was searching for Mendez’s husband.
Mendez and her family burst into tears in the courtroom when the federal magistrate judge denied her bail Tuesday evening. The judge agreed with prosecutors that Mendez could be a flight risk as she is a citizen of the Dominican Republic and a legal permanent resident in the US. Prosecutors said in court her husband had already fled and “there’s no reason to believe she wouldn’t.”
At one point, the judge paused the proceeding to allow Mendez, through tears, to speak to her attorney using a Spanish-speaking interpreter. “The real allegations are against her husband and not her and she would never leave her children in the lurch,” an attorney for Mendez relayed on her behalf.
Brito’s court-appointed attorney did not make a request for bail Tuesday but maintains the right to do so at a later time. Brito is due back in federal court on October 19.
New York City police were called to the day care Friday afternoon, where they discovered three unconscious children. First responders administered Narcan, an opioid reversal treatment, to all three children in an attempt to revive them, NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said.
Two children survived, but 1-year-old Nicholas died at Montefiore Medical Center, the NYPD said in a statement.
In addition, another 2-year-old boy, whose family had taken him home from the day care around 12:15 p.m., was later brought to BronxCare Health System where he was administered Narcan, which saved his life, Kenny said.
A kilogram of fentanyl was discovered in an area where children napped at the day care center Friday, the chief of detectives said.
Complaint details alleged efforts to remove evidence
According to the federal complaint, a DEA special agent involved in the investigation detailed how he believed Mendez attempted to remove evidence from the day care prior to a law enforcement search.
Mendez called 911 to report the unresponsive children around 2:40 p.m. on Friday but placed three other calls before calling emergency services: one to another day care employee, and two to her husband, according to the agent’s affidavit in the complaint.
After speaking to 911, Mendez called her husband again multiple times, according to the complaint.
Several minutes before law enforcement arrived, the DEA agent said, surveillance footage showed Mendez’s husband enter the day care “empty-handed and then exit approximately two minutes later carrying what appears to be two shopping bags weighted with contents.”
Instead of exiting through the front door of the day care, Mendez’s husband exited through a back alley, the agent said.
Surveillance footage also showed Mendez’s husband at the day care earlier Friday, despite Mendez stating no one had come into the day care that day, according to the complaint.
Further, Mendez deleted approximately 21,526 messages from “an encrypted messaging application” and sent her husband several messages while law enforcement was with her following the overdoses, the agent said.
The DEA agent said in his affidavit that Brito, the other defendant, had exchanged messages indicating “his participation in narcotics trafficking.” Several messages between Brito and an unknown individual in August 2023 involved discussions about the presence of law enforcement outside the day care, according to the complaint.
That same individual sent Brito a message on September 12 – three days before the overdoses – that they had left him “una torta” – which translates to “sandwich” or “cake” in Spanish, the court documents say.
“Cake” is often used to refer to a kilogram of narcotics, the agent said.
™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.
CNN’s Lauren del Valle, Rob Frehse and Kara Scannell contributed to this report.