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California man who kept runaway teen in metal box at pot farm sentenced to 31 years in prison

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In a remote area near Clearlake in Northern California, authorities say a teenage girl from Los Angeles County was sexually abused and sometimes held captive in this metal box.
(Lake County Sheriff’s Department)

A 36-year-old Lake County man was sentenced Wednesday to 31 years in prison for his role in illegally growing hundreds of marijuana plants and forcing a runaway teen to work at the farm, sometimes keeping her inside a small metal tool chest.

Ryan Alan Balletto pleaded guilty in December to marijuana trafficking stemming from a May 2013 raid to his property outside of Clearlake, Calif., according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of California.

At the property, authorities found not only a substantial marijuana growing operation with more than 1,300 plants but also dilapidated trailers where farmers appeared to be living in and a stash of weapons.

Investigators compared the scene to the 1972 film “Deliverance.”

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“If I was a plant, that’s where I’d want to live,” David Prince, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations in Northern California, said at the time of the raid. “If I was a human, that’s not where I’d want to be.”

Authorities also found a 15-year-old girl from Los Angeles County who Balletto and another man, Patrick Stephen Pearmain, 31, forced to help them, prosecutors said.

Balletto initially met the girl in Los Angeles and offered to let her live with his family in Northern California. Instead, prosecutors said Balletto drove her to his rural marijuana farm and forced her to help.

Balletto admitted to sexually and physically abusing the girl, including shocking her with a cattle prod and occasionally holding her captive in a metal box with holes drilled through the lid. During the raid, investigators found human hair inside the box and a poem in Balletto’s trailer that the girl had written about being held in the box, according to court records.

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In addition, Balletto admitted to possessing several firearms, including two .223-caliber assault rifles, prosecutors said.

Balletto has been in custody since his arrest in May 2013 and will begin serving his prison term immediately.

Pearmain was sentenced in April to 150 months in prison for his role in the scheme, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

“This case is an unfortunate example of how despicable criminals, like Balletto, will stop at nothing to cultivate an illegal harvest in the interest of gaining illicit profits while taking advantage of an innocent child to satisfy his perverse desires,” Ryan L. Spradlin, Homeland Security investigations special agent in charge in San Francisco and Northern California, said in a statement.

Times staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report.

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Sources: Justice Department; Lake County, Calif.; Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
(L.A. Times Graphics)


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