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Exclusive look inside 1770 National Register home gutted for pot grow as suspect runs from feds

Target 12

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — With the suspect in a pair of illegal marijuana grows now a federal fugitive, the U.S. Marshals Service is trying to sell what was her Cranston home which was built several years before the Fourth of July was considered the nation’s birthday.

But Cranston Historical Society President Sandra Moyer is adamant the Nathan Westcott House, located on a stretch of Scituate Avenue that is part of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, is historically significant to the city, state, and country.

“I’m very angry,” Moyer said, after getting her first look inside the home since it was gutted. “It’s a historic home and to have no thought of that?”

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According to city records, LiQiong “Lilly” Zheng bought the Westcott House in August 2016 for $80,000 cash.

She was indicted in January on two federal charges for allegedly cultivating 100 or more marijuana plants, and also faces state charges for allegedly growing some 300 plants in an inconspicuous raised ranch in Coventry.

But a spokesman for the office of U.S. Attorney Aaron Weisman confirmed Zheng has disappeared and is now a fugitive from justice.

The government has since seized the property which, according to federal documents, was altered to grow marijuana.

The most significant change involved the removal of the floor, ceiling and joists between the first and second floors to “provide the necessary height for indoor marijuana grow lamps” for cultivating the drug.

“The windows were covered so no one would have any idea what’s going on in here,” Moyer said as she looked around the foil-covered interior. “The kitchen is not here and a wall is missing, I think.”

The chimney was stuffed with insulation; interior faucets were plumbed for irrigation; central air conditioning units were added to control the humidity; and the electrical was upgraded, investigators claim.

“I’m very upset [Zheng] ruined it,” Moyer added. “Using it for criminal activity is the government’s purview but mine is preserving old houses with the Historical Society. So that’s what upsets me.”

The house is listed for $126,500, just above its assessed value.

According to Statewide Multiple Listing Service, 150 Scituate Ave. is the least expensive single-family home for sale in Cranston, and one of only a handful in Providence County listed for under $130,000.

Moyer said the Cranston Historical Society does not have the assets to buy it, but she reached out to Sen. Jack Reed’s office and city government with hopes of finding a way to save the home from any further damage.

The Historical Society owns the Joy Homestead next door.

“[The Westcott House] could be used as a caretakers cottage for the Joy Homestead,” Moyer noted.

The Joy Homestead is part of a city district that is protected from demolition and significant changes, but Westcott is located just outside that boundary.

According to the National Park Service, which manages the National Register of Historic Places, the designation “generally” does not put any restrictions on altering a property.

The Westcott House was placed on the register in 1989, with the application stating the home is an example of “the modest late eighteenth-century houses built by the town’s small farmers.”

Moyer said French General Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau and about 5,000 soldiers marched by the homes in what was known as Joytown, with the colonial families who lived there offering food and shelter.

“The troops would meet up later with George Washington and go on to Yorktown and win that war, which was the deciding battle in the revolution,” Moyer said. Now, a 21st-century crime has threatened a stop on that revolutionary journey.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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