Three-decade prison term for man guilty in rape, imprisonment of girl on Lake County pot farm

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A Lake County man accused in 2013 of imprisoning a 15- year-old girl in a tool box and sexually abusing her on an illegal marijuana farm was sentenced to 31 years in federal prison Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Ryan Balletto, 36, of Lakeport, pleaded guilty last year in U.S. District Court in San Francisco to charges stemming from the investigation, which revealed he and his partner were growing about 1,300 marijuana plants illegally and had forced the girl to work for them, according to federal prosecutors.

The sentence was just one year short of the 32 years requested by federal prosecutors because of the severity of Balletto’s admitted crimes, which included “sadistic physical, sexual, and psychological abuse of a 15-year-old girl over a prolonged period of time,” according to a July 3 sentencing memorandum filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“The totality of this abuse is hard to comprehend,” prosecutors said in the memo.

Balletto met the girl in Southern California and offered to bring her north to live with his wife and children in Northern California, officials said. Instead, he took her to a rural 681-acre tract of land near Clearlake Oaks where he and his partner, Patrick Pearmain of Clearlake, had an illegal pot farm, officials said.

They forced her to work for them, and Balletto sexually abused her, at times using an electric cattle prod to shock her, prosecutors said in court filings.

The girl told investigators she was sometimes kept inside a metal tool box with air holes — for three-day stints on multiple occasions, according to the filings. The girl told investigators Pearmain was aware of her confinement and abuse, at one point telling her that they put her in the box because they had “a whole lot of money on this (the marijuana grow) right now,” federal prosecutors said.

Pearmain pleaded guilty in October 2018 to employing a minor to violate federal drug laws and illegal drug charges. In April, Pearmain was sentenced to serve 12 years and six months in federal prison for his role in the scheme.

Two separate investigations led authorities to arrest Balletto and Pearmain in 2013. One was a local Lake County sheriff’s investigation into illegal marijuana cultivation and the other involved a tip from Los Angeles regarding human trafficking and the teen girl.

At one point after Balletto became aware he was under investigation, he admitted to having Pearmain make the girl call 911 and report “she was with friends and was ‘all right,’ ” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The men have been incarcerated since their June 2013 arrests. Federal investigators took over the case one month later.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the girl was rescued when both men were arrested and received several months of psychiatric and psychological care in a residential facility in another state.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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