SAN FRANCISCO – Two men are accused of forcing a 15-year-old girl to work on a Northern California marijuana grow, sexually abusing her and locking her in a metal toolbox for days, authorities said.
Ryan Balletto, 30, and Patrick Pearmain, 24, both allegedly had sex with the girl who was cutting marijuana buds for them at Balletto's Lake County property, according to a federal complaint unsealed Monday.
The girl, described as a runaway from the Los Angeles area, told investigators she was locked in a 4 by 2 by 2-foot box. Holes had been drilled in the box and water was run through the box to wash her without letting her out, the complaint said.
"Some in our community believe that marijuana grow operations are run by compassionate caregivers interested only in supplying medicine to the sick," said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in a statement Monday. "Unfortunately, this case illustrates what we in law enforcement see — marijuana grow operations that include heavily armed, violent individuals, motivated by profit, carrying out abuses of vulnerable victims."
The girl came to Lake County Sheriff's deputies' attention when the Los Angeles Police Department advised that Balletto may have kidnapped her. After deputies visited Balletto's home asking about the missing girl on April 29, the complaint said, she called authorities the next day to say she was OK and in Sacramento.
LAPD investigators traced the call and police located the girl at a West Sacramento hotel, where authorities arrested Pearmain, the complaint said.
Balletto was arrested when authorities raided his property on May 1. Court paper said officers found sex toys, a rope tied into a noose and a homemade device used "presumably to attach a human and immobilize them" in a trailer Balletto was living in.
Hundreds of marijuana plants and several firearms were found as part of the investigation.
Balletto and Pearmain were both charged with marijuana possession and using a minor in drug operations. Balletto is also charged with possession of a firearm to further a drug trafficking crime.
If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of life in prison.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Balletto and Pearmain have retained attorneys.
A call to the Lake County District Attorney's office to see whether they face charges related to the sexual abuse allegations was not immediately returned.
The U.S. Attorney's office said in a statement that Balletto and Pearmain have already had their first court appearance.
A call to the office seeking further details on the status of their case was not immediately returned.