A California man has been sentenced to 31 years in federal prison for imprisoning and assaulting a 15-year-old girl on his illegal pot farm. “The circumstances of this offense,” including “the sadistic physical, sexual, and psychological abuse of a fifteen year-old girl over a prolonged period of time... are among the most horrific of any case prosecuted in this District in recent memory,” the prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum, according to the New York Daily News.
Prosecutors explained that 36-year-old Ryan Balletto allegedly met the teen (whose identity remains anonymous for her protection) in Southern California after she had run away from home. Balletto offered to let the girl move in with his wife and children in Northern California, but instead brought her to a rural 681-acre plot of land near Clearlake Oaks, where he and his partner Patrick Pearmain were growing black market weed.
The two men forced the girl to work on their pot farm for several weeks. When not working, the men kept her locked in a metal tool box for as long as three days in a row. Prosecutors said that Balletto sexually assaulted the girl, shocked her with an electric cattle prod, and chained her to a couch and a bed by her neck. “The totality of this abuse is hard to comprehend,” the prosecutors wrote in their memo, the Press Democrat reports.
Fortunately, the illegal weed farm was already on the radar of the local Lake County Sheriff's department, who were working to crack down on black market pot farms in their jurisdiction. After receiving a tip from Los Angeles regarding the teen girl, police raided the farm, rescuing the young victim and seizing 1,300 illegal pot plants. Police also discovered numerous assault rifles with night-vision scopes on the property.
The two men, who have remained in prison since their arrest in June of 2013, both admitted their guilt before the court. Last October, Pearmain pleaded guilty to employing a minor to violate federal drug laws, along with other charges connected with growing pot illegally. This April, Pearmain was sentenced to 12 and a half years in federal prison. Balletto pleaded guilty to marijuana trafficking, firearms possession, and using a minor to violate drug laws last year, and was sentenced to 31 years in federal prison this month.
The police investigation that ultimately led to the girl's rescue is part of a larger operation to take down a vast number of illegal cannabis farms all across the Golden State. Since February, the National Guard has been helping local cops raid hundreds of black market growers, many of which are hidden within the forests of NorCal's Emerald Triangle.
The fact that these illegal growers have been poisoning local plants and wildlife with lethal pesticides and undermining the state's legal pot market with cheap, unregulated product is already well known, but this case highlights the human cost of California's failure to eradicate black market marijuana farms.