U.S. Attorney's office said two men are in custody for an illegal Lake County pot grow and also imprisoning a 15-year-old girl in a small tool box.
Following a months-long federal investigation, Ryan Balletto and Patrick Pearmain were charged today with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute over 1,000 plants of marijuana and using a minor in a drug operation, announced United States Attorney Melinda Haag.
Balletto and Pearmain, of Lake County, are charged in a criminal complaint signed by Magistrate Judge Nandor J. Vadas and unsealed today. In addition to the conspiracy and use of a minor charges, Balletto is also charged in the complaint with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The case arose from an investigation by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and the ICE Homeland Security Investigations, Contraband Smuggling Group, which led to the discovery of a 1,300 plant marijuana cultivation operation and a host of firearms in Lake County.
The complaint alleges that Balletto and Pearmain kept a fifteen year-old runaway for weeks at an extensive marijuana grow site on land owned by Balletto in Lake County, and that they used her to process marijuana plants. Investigators say the kept her in a 4x2x2 tool box.
According to the complaint, Balletto and Pearmain allegedly subjected the minor victim to sexual abuse during that time.
Agents and officers allegedly discovered a cache of weapons at the grow site, most of which were loaded, including assault weapons, such as AR-15 style rifles with night vision scopes, and pistols. Stored with the rifles, officers allegedly found seven fully loaded 30-round .223 caliber magazines, four fully loaded 20-round .223 caliber magazines, and a large cache of assorted ammunition. With the weapons, officers allegedly found ballistic face masks, a helmet, a flak jacket, an armored plate carrier, night vision devices, and a gas mask. A search of Balletto’s residence allegedly uncovered even more weapons, including multiple sniper rifles, additional assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, and ammunition.
The penalties Balletto and Pearmain face for the drug conspiracy and use of a minor in a drug operation charges are a maximum of life in prison, with a mandatory minimum ten-year term. In addition, the possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime carries a mandatory term of five years in prison, consecutive to any sentence imposed.
“Some in our community believe that marijuana grow operations are run by compassionate caregivers interested only in supplying medicine to the sick. Unfortunately, this case illustrates what we in law enforcement see – marijuana grow operations that include heavily-armed, violent individuals, motivated by profit, carrying out abuses of vulnerable victims.” U.S. Attorney Haag said. “In light of the details alleged in the complaint, we fear additional victims may have been subjected to similar treatment by the defendants, and we urge anyone with information about other such victims to come forward."
"The criminal groups involved in growing and trafficking marijuana have repeatedly shown they have no qualms about using violence and intimidation against those who get in their way - in this case the alleged victim was only 15 years old," said Tatum King, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations, San Francisco.