By Joseph Serna and Kate Mather
5:26 PM EDT, July 26, 2013
A Lake County property where two men allegedly kept a Los Angeles-area girl in a metal box and sexually abused her had been under federal investigation for the previous 18 months, court documents said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had been investigating a 680-acre property owned by Ryan Balletto, 30, in a remote section of Lakeport since December 2011, according to a criminal complaint against Balletto that was unsealed July 16.
The case cracked open in late April, according to the document, when Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives called Northern California deputies about the missing 15-year-old girl.
There was reason to believe she was with Balletto, authorities said.
A follow-up by Lake County sheriff’s deputies revealed more than any of them could have expected.
“It was kind of like opening Pandora’s box,” said Lake County sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Ostini.
The break came April 30 when the girl called sheriff’s deputies and confirmed she was with Balletto, the document said. The teen said she was OK and deputies traced the call to West Sacramento, where she was found in a hotel room with Patrick Steven Pearmain, 24.
Authorities say they found a bag full of marijuana, prescription drugs, condoms and a pregnancy test. Pearmain also had a notebook on him that had an apparent script for the girl to read to police over the phone, authorities claim.
Police used the girl’s statement that she was with Balletto to get a search warrant for his Lakeport property and his home in Clearlake, about 30 miles away.
Within days of the call from Los Angeles, two men would be in custody, a cache of weapons, drugs and cash would be seized and a virtual horror house of physical and sexual abuse would come to light.
Balletto was arrested on his rural property in Lakeport, where police found more than 1,200 marijuana plants, guns and the items he and Pearmain allegedly used on the girl.
Among the items was a 4-foot-long by 2-foot-wide by 2-feet deep metal box with holes. The pair allegedly kept the girl in there on two separate occasions for a total of three days, authorities said.
Spray painted on the outside was the first initial of the teenage girl’s name and inside was a decal that “depicted an animal skull surrounding the shadow image of a human skull with the logo ‘Bone Collector,’” according to the court documents.
The men put a hose through one of the holes and washed out the human waste inside, court documents said. Investigators found a poem the girl had written about life in the box, and human hair, authorities said.
Court documents show Balletto called her a “trooper” because she didn’t scream. A “rack” allegedly used for bondage and sex toys were also found on the property.
Balletto and Pearmain face a slew of state and federal charges. The pair pleaded not guilty last week to charges of federal conspiracy to distribute marijuana, using a minor in a drug operation and possession of a firearm to further drug trafficking.
Balletto was booked into Lake County jail on suspicion of cultivating and possessing marijuana, lewd or lascivious acts on a 15-year-old child, and being a felon with a firearm.
Pearmain was booked on suspicion of cultivating and possessing marijuana, conspiracy to commit a crime, kidnapping and committing a rape and unlawful sex with a minor.
Both men were being held without bail. They are due back in San Francisco federal court Wednesday.
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