Feds take over Lake County pot, sex abuse case

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.

Ryan Alan Balletto, 30, of Lakeport and Patrick Steven Pearmain, 24, of Clearlake were charged Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas in Eureka with conspiring to manufacture and distribute more than 1,000 marijuana plants and using a minor in a drug operation, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said.

The allegations outlined in a July 16 complaint, which was unsealed Monday, reveal that the men are suspected of not only using the girl to trim marijuana buds but they are also suspected of using her for a variety of sexual acts and keeping her in a metal box.

Balletto has been under investigation as early as December 2011 by Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for suspected narcotics trafficking, the complaint said.

A Lake County sheriff's detective flew over Balletto's undeveloped 681-acre property in the Ogulin Canyon near Clearlake on April 12 and saw two greenhouses full of marijuana plants.

As the sheriff's narcotics unit planned to raid the property, they received a tip from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office that Balletto was believed to be holding a 15-year-old girl missing from the Los Angeles area at his Lake County property against her will, according to the complaint.

After deputies interviewed Balletto's girlfriend at his Zeno Road home, they received a call from a girl saying she was the missing juvenile and that she was, "Okay." Detectives traced her to a motel in West Sacramento where they found her with Pearmain, along with marijuana, prescription bottles, condoms and a pregnancy test.

The girl later told investigators that the sex she had with Pearmain was consensual and the sex she had with Balletto was "not as consensual" but that she engaged in sex with Balletto to "help him out," the documents stated. The investigators noted that because of the girl's age she is not legally able to consent to sex with an adult.

At the hotel, detectives also found a notebook with what appeared to be written instructions for conversations with law enforcement, including the phrase: "I just want to make sure Ryan Balletto doesn't get in any trouble if you have any questions."

The girl told agents that she lived and worked at Balletto's rural property for several weeks and was confined to a metal box on two occasions for a total of about three days, investigators said.

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