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2 accused of keeping girl in box on pot farm plead not guilty

Authorities say the runaway from Hollywood was sexually assaulted and forced to help them on the Northern California property.

August 02, 2013|By Joseph Serna
  • The 4-by-2-by-2-foot metal box in which a 15-year-old girl told authorities she was imprisoned is shown.
The 4-by-2-by-2-foot metal box in which a 15-year-old girl told authorities… (Lake County Sheriff's Department )

Two Northern California men pleaded not guilty Friday to a federal grand jury indictment accusing them of sexually assaulting a runaway teen and keeping her in a metal box on their secluded marijuana farm.

Ryan Alan Balletto, 30, and Patrick Steven Pearmain, 25, are accused of cultivating and trafficking more than 1,000 marijuana plants as well as forcing a 15-year-old runaway from Hollywood to help them. Balletto also faces weapons charges for the vast cache of military-grade weapons he allegedly kept on the 681-acre rural property.

The two were indicted Thursday, three months after federal authorities and the Lake County Sheriff's Department raided Balletto's farm and home in Lakeport, and Pearmain was arrested at a West Sacramento hotel. Lake County proseuctors said they are considering charges related to the alleged kidnapping, captivity and sexual assault but are still gathering evidence.

Since the arrests, prosecutors have gathered "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," according to court documents.

The case broke in late April when Lake County sheriff's deputies, acting on a tip from Los Angeles law enforcement officials, knocked on Balletto's door, looking for the missing girl. Authorities say that the visit spooked the men and that Pearmain took her to West Sacramento, where he had her call authorities and say she was OK. Police traced the call and found Pearmain and the girl. The same day, they raided Balletto's properties.

Authorities described the marijuana farm as something out of the movie "Deliverance."

"If I was a plant, that's where I'd want to live," said David Prince, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations in Northern California. "If I was a human, that's not where I'd want to be."

The property is off a dirt road east of Clear Lake and, authorities say, served not only as a farm for more than 1,200 marijuana plants, but also as Balletto's shooting range, the stage for sadomasochistic scenes and the teen girl's dungeon.

Among the items recovered was a bloody rag and a wood, metal and leather "rack" used for sadomasochism. A 4-by-2-by-2-foot metal box with air holes was also discovered. 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 Bone Collector logo.

Spray-painted on the outside was the first letter of the runaway girl's name. The girl told prosecutors that she was kept in the box twice for a total of three days and that the men put a hose through one of the holes to clean her and wash out the human waste inside.

They told her she was in the box to "teach" her and to "prove a point," court documents show. She told authorities that Balletto called her a "trouper" for not screaming while inside the box. She said they occasionally shocked her with a cattle prod.

In court documents, prosecutors portrayed Balletto as an ex-Marine ready for a lengthy gun battle. He kept dozens of military grade guns, sniper rifles and body armor there. He also had 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.

Pearmain, meanwhile, is portrayed as Balletto's drug-addicted helper. Mail and prescription bottles addressed to Pearmain found in a trailer on the land indicated he'd been living there since at least January, authorities say. Statements from the girl and a worker to prosecutors showed employees thought Pearmain was taking money meant for food and supplies and was spending it for heroin.

The mistrust was mutual, authorities say. When a worker found the girl on the property, Pearmain discussed whether that worker needed "to be dead," according to court records. Balletto spared the employee and instead just texted "Mum's the word," when it came to the kidnapped girl, authorities say.

The two face a minimum of decades in prison — up to life — if convicted on all counts.

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