WOONSOCKET – Police are looking for a Connecticut man who allegedly rented space in an old factory to set up the most sophisticated indoor marijuana plantation they've ever seen.
Acting on a tip, police seized 140 marijuana plants with an estimated value of $150,000 at 32 Mechanic St. on Oct. 26, said Detective Lt. Eugene Jalette.
The plants were located in several rooms encompassing about 1,200 square feet on the third floor of the old Taft Peirce building, Jalette said. The clandestine grow house was equipped with a ventilation system to disperse the telltale odor of the plants into the open air, automated irrigation, humidity controls and a cooling system to keep the timer-controlled lights from overheating.
Sheets of black plastic covered numerous windows to prevent anyone from seeing inside.
“It's the most elaborate grow this department has ever seen,” said Detective Cmdr. Edward J. Lee Jr.
Though police raided the pot factory nearly three weeks ago, they didn't reveal the discovery until Friday, after exhausting efforts to locate the person they believe was responsible for maintaining it.
That person remains at large, but police identified him as Nestor Cruz, 34, whose last known address was in New Haven, Conn. Jalette said a warrant has been issued for his arrest on charges of manufacturing marijuana with the intent to deliver.
Anyone with information regarding Cruz's whereabouts is encouraged to contact the police at 766-1212 or on the Tip Line, at 769-4444.
Jalette said police believe Cruz began renting space in the building around June. He said police seized so much evidence from the operation, they had to rent a private location to store most of the hardware; only the vegetative material is held in the evidence room at police headquarters.
“There was more space for the growing operation to continue,” said Jalette. “I think he was just getting started.”
Jalette said the plants were in various stages of maturity, but some of those nearest to harvest-ready were growing out of large plastic vats originally made for wholesale shipping of chemicals.
Built in 1920, the Taft Peirce mill encompasses about 150,000 square feet of space on four stories, but it's one of the few brick buildings of its kind in the city that was never a textile mill. The Taft Peirce empire was established just before the turn of the century as a machine shop, manufacturing typewriters, sewing machines and other low-tech gear typical of the era.
Today the rambling site is owned by Henry Varra, a former owner of the defunct Rocky Point amusement park in Warwick, and most of the space is used for storage and low-intensity commercial operations.