◼ Lake County men face marijuana drug operation, sexual abuse charges - Julie Johnson/Press Democrat 7/26/2013
Federal prosecutors have taken over the case against two Lake County men accused of running a large marijuana farm on a rural tract of land and sexually abusing a 15-year-old runaway.
◼ 'Extremely disturbing'; two men suspected of enslaving runaway teen face federal pot chargesThadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard 7/26/2013
Two Lake County men suspected of raping a 15-year-old runaway, locking her in a 2-foot high metal box for days and forcing her to trim marijuana for weeks remained in the Humboldt County jail Thursday after a judge denied their release on drug charges.
Ryan Balletto, 30, of Lakeport and Patrick Steven Pearmain, 24, of Clearlake, appeared in the federal courthouse in Eureka on Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas, who denied their release, saying he viewed both men as flight risks and dangers to the community. The two men were remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Vadas said during Wednesday's detention hearing that he finds the case “extremely disturbing,” echoing the sentiments of Assistant United States Attorney Matthew McCarthy.
”This is far and away the most disturbing case I've seen in my career as a prosecutor,” McCarthy told the court.
McCarthy told the court that Balletto, a former U.S. Marine, met the 15-year-old runaway in Los Angeles and drove her nearly 500 miles to a 680-acre piece of land he owns in Ogulin Canyon near Clearlake, keeping her there for weeks against her will to help manicure marijuana buds harvested from a 1,300-plant grow.
McCarthy said both Balletto and Pearmain had sex with the girl while she was kept at the property, and that equipment “consistent with sexual bondage and sadomasochism” was found there. McCarthy said authorities searching the property also found a metal box -- measuring 4 feet long, 2 feet wide and 2 feet high -- with air holes drilled in it, and that the girl later told police the two men locked her inside the box on two occasions for a total of about three days.
McCarthy said the two men referred to their marijuana operation as “their mission,” and told the girl they were locking her in the box to “teach her” and protect their “mission.”
According to a federal criminal complaint filed against the two men, the box -- located outside the trailer in which Balletto resided on the property -- had a hose attached to it, allowing the men to wash human waste off the girl and out of the box without opening it. The girl told authorities, according to the complaint, that Balletto called her a “trooper” for not screaming while she was locked in the box....
◼ Teen allegedly kept in toolbox as part of marijuana operation - News10/KXTV (image source) 7/26/2013
◼ Lake County: Three arrests, marijuana, cash and military-grade weapons seized - Daily News 7/26/2013
...Authorities allegedly found five children in the North Lakeport home they scoured.
Members of the LCSO SWAT team, narcotics task force and major crimes unit served a search warrant on Balletto's nearly 700-acre property in the area of Junction Plaza in Clearlake Oaks Wednesday, according to a department statement released Friday. Deputies also executed a search warrant at Balletto's North Lakeport home.
LCSO officials said they found 1,491 marijuana plants, more than $4,000 in cash and "the largest and most sophisticated bulk of weapons seized in recent (department) history" between the two searches.
In total, investigators reportedly discovered 22 firearms, including high-powered military-grade sniper and assault rifles, automatic assault rifles and pistols. They also recovered military-grade body armor and scopes, high-capacity magazines and ammunition, according to the LCSO statement.
The five children removed from the residence were taken into the custody of Lake County Child Protective Services, the LCSO stated....
◼ Marijuana cultivation investigation leads to human trafficking case - Lake County News
The men also are alleged at one point to have kept the girl in a large box as a punishment, according to District Attorney Don Anderson.
Pearmain’s attorney, Tom Quinn, declined comment at this stage in the case, and Balletto’s attorney, Mitch Hauptman, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Deputy District Attorney Ed Borg, who is handling the sex crimes case against the men, said they are facing charges of human trafficking, statutory rape, oral copulation on a person under age 16, sodomy, false imprisonment, annoying or molesting a child. Balletto also is charged with lewd and lascivious acts on a child under age 14 or 15.
They could each face nearly 16 years in prison if convicted of all the charges, Borg said.
While the California Attorney General's Office has put increased focus on fighting human trafficking, which the agency said is the world's fastest growing enterprise, human trafficking cases are rare in Lake County, Borg said.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever charged it,” he said....
The girl has since gone into protective custody outside of Lake County, Borg said.
The situation involving the girl also involves a third suspect.
Eric George Edgar, 45, was arrested on May 16 in connection with the case, Borg said.
Edgar is charged with statutory rape for having allegedly raped the teenage girl when they were alone together on the property. He's also facing charges for making criminal threats and attempting to dissuade a witness, Borg said.
The girl was being kept in a small group of trailers on the property, while Edgar was staying in a trailer more than an hour’s hike across a canyon. Edgar is alleged to have happened upon the girl and raped her, Borg said.
◼ L.A. girl kept in metal box on pot farm for sex, authorities say - LA Times 7/26/2013
◼ Lake County men transferred from (Humboldt County) jail; former Marine is one of two men accused of enslaving runaway teen - Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard 7/27/2013
◼ Criminal complaint: Ryan Balletto...Note: This document contains content that some readers might find disturbing. - LA Times 7/26/2013
Lots of unanswered questions. Picking up runaways in LA, transporting them hundreds of miles to a remote location, a 'box' that indicates they solved a problem they must have had before, telling her she was a trooper for not screaming... how many screamed before her?
Just be glad this is before Federal authorities, and not Humboldt County's DA.
(U.S. Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas and Deputy District Attorney Ed Borg were formerly with the Humboldt County DA's Office. Just some of the talent 'lost, fired, or driven away' by Paul Gallegos.)