(NewsNation) — Outraged over the death of a 1-year-old boy at a Bronx day care, the former deputy administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration says the U.S. government needs to take more steps to deal with the influx of illicit drugs coming across the southern U.S. border.
“When is leadership going to let us take our gloves off and take the fight to the people that are causing this, that’s south of the border? That’s our relationships with Mexico and China that is causing this,” Riley said Wednesday on “CUOMO.” “If we can’t protect our children from these animals, I don’t know what to do.”
Federal prosecutors have charged Grei Mendez and her husband’s cousin, Carlecito Brito, days after babies were exposed to fentanyl inside a Bronx day care. Mendez is accused of calling her husband twice and another person once before dialing 911 to help three unresponsive children who didn’t wake up from their nap Friday.
One of the babies, 1-year-old Nicholas Dominici, died, while two other siblings — 8 months and 2 years old — were hospitalized and revived with naloxone, a lifesaving drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses.
Another 2-year-old who had been taken home from the day care was brought to Bronx Care Hospital by his mother when she noticed he was lethargic, officials said. He was also revived with naloxone, according to police.
“The defendants poisoned four babies and killed one because they were running a drug operation from a day care,” U.S. District Attorney Damian Williams said during a news conference Tuesday.
Law enforcement continues to search for Mendez’s husband, who was described as an alleged co-conspirator.
“We’re not going to give up. We’re going to get him,” Williams said.
Riley, who led the DEA’s hunt for cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and served as the agency’s No. 2 official in Washington, said it’s time for the United States to get serious about going after Mexican drug cartels. He’s among those who advocate for declaring cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, which could unlock more federal resources to attack their operations.
“Let’s bring the power of the federal government to make, finally, an effort the curb this,” Riley said. “I cannot stand this any longer when I see our kids threatened. Somebody’s got to do something.”
Fentanyl is a highly potent synthetic opioid that has the ability to kill someone with as little as 2 milligrams. The pills are cheap to produce, making it a favored product among Mexican drug cartels that then traffic it across the southern U.S. border.
The federal charges filed against Mendez and Acevedo Brito carry a maximum sentence of life in prison and a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said if the government wants to make a dent in trafficking operations, it needs to make a concerted effort to set a common priority among all the federal districts and to go after large players.
“A lot of times, these cases are difficult to prosecute and a lot of the people who are endangering children like in this case are often people who the cartel view as disposable, and ultimately, it’s hard to get cooperation,” Mariotti said. “It’s not as easy as it as it seems to build those cases, and that’s why ultimately you have to work like Jack and others did to build cases against big cartel members like El Chapo.”
NewsNation affiliate WPIX-TV contributed to this report.