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Alleged pot farmer confessed to keeping girl in box, prosecutors say

August 01, 2013|By Joseph Serna
  • This undated photo released by the Lake County Sheriff's Office shows a box that a 15-year-old girl, described as a runaway from the Los Angeles area, told investigators she was locked in at a Lake County, Calif., property. Two men are accused of forcing the girl to work on a Northern California marijuana farm, sexually abusing her and locking her in the box for days, authorities said.
This undated photo released by the Lake County Sheriff's Office shows… (AP )

A Lake County man has confessed to holding a 15-year-old Los Angeles girl captive in a metal box and cultivating more than 1,000 marijuana plants on his Northern California property, federal prosecutors said.

In an 11-page motion arguing to keep Ryan Alan Balletto, 30, and Patrick Steven Pearmain, 25, behind bars until trial, prosecutors write that the government has "a recorded, Mirandized confession by Balletto, a recorded statement from the minor victim, and multiple recorded statements from others who were working at the site."

The pair face several federal drug and weapons charges, and are accused of forcing the teen runaway from Hollywood to help them process marijuana on Balletto’s isolated 681-acre property east of Clear Lake. According to the motion, the men essentially have "nothing to lose" and would likely flee if let out on bail, even though Balletto has at least four children.

Balletto had been in investigators’ cross hairs for marijuana trafficking since at least 2011, court documents show. But the May 1 raid of his rural property, his home some 25 miles away in Lakeport and the arrest of Pearmain at a West Sacramento hotel opened a virtual "Pandora’s box," as one Lake County sheriff’s deputy put it.

Federal investigators unexpectedly found items on the property that aren’t used for drugs, but for humans. Among the items recovered was a wood, metal and leather "rack" used for sadomasochism and a 4-foot-by-2-foot-by-2-foot metal box with air holes. Inside the box investigators found a blanket, human hair and a decal that depicted an animal skull surrounding the shadow image of a human skull with the logo "Bone Collector."

Spray-painted on the outside was the first letter of the girl's name. The men put a hose through one of the holes to clean the girl and wash out the human waste inside, prosecutors allege.

The girl told investigators she was kept in the box twice for a total of three days. She said the men told her they put her in there to "teach" her and to "prove a point," according to court documents. She told authorities that Balletto called her a "trouper" for not screaming while inside the box.

They also shocked her with a cattle prod, prosecutors claim.

Wednesday's court filing doesn't provide any clues on how a Hollywood runaway ended up with Pearmain and Balletto in Lake County. But it does outline the prosecution's theory on how she was rescued in West Sacramento.

The girl told authorities a worker on the property found her, according to court documents. Afraid the employee would tip off police, Pearmain and Balletto discussed whether that employee "needs to be dead." Balletto eventually text messaged the employee, "Mum's the word" and left it at that.

Then, sometime in April, Los Angeles police looking for the girl got a tip she was on Balletto’s property.

On May 1, authorities traced a call from the girl in a West Sacramento hotel to sheriff’s deputies and found her. Authorities say Pearmain was found at the hotel too, carrying a backpack with drugs, a script for the girl to read to deputies on the phone and a pregnancy test. Prosecutors said Pearmain likely took the girl away when investigators visited Balletto’s property asking about her.

Pearmain had been living on the property since January, according to court documents. Prosecutors contend that workers believed he had a heroin addiction that burned through some of the workers' food and supplies money.

Balletto, meanwhile, is portrayed in court documents as an ex-Marine ready for a protracted gun battle and armed with military-grade weapons and armor. He owned a sniper's "ghillie suit" used for camouflage and regularly took target practice on metal stands set up on his wilderness property.

Prosecutors said he supplied marijuana to dispensaries in Los Angeles and has connections in Florida, where he allegedly bought a plane for $180,000 cash a few years ago.

According to Wednesday's filing, investigators are testing Balletto's weapons to see if any were converted to be fully automatic capable. If they were, it would double his mandatory minimum sentencing for some counts, officials said.

Balletto and Pearmain are due back in court Friday.


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