A missing 15-year-old girl was held captive in a metal box on a California marijuana farm, where she was forced to work and used as a sex slave, according to a federal complaint filed this week.
Ryan Balletto, 30, and Patrick Pearmain, 25, are charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and using a minor in a drug operation. Balletto also faces a charge of possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, according to a the complaint.
Federal authorities said the alleged marijuana-growing operation had been under investigation for 18 months, according to the complaint.
In April, after conducting a flyover of property owned by Balletto and detecting what was believed to be two greenhouses full of marijuana plants, authorities from the Lake County Sheriff's Office began preparing a search warrant.
The case became more complex when, on April 29, according to the complaint, the Los Angeles Police Department contacted the Lake County Sheriff's Office for "urgent assistance" after detectives received information a missing teen was being held against her will on Balletto's property.
Police visited Balletto's home the same day, but found nothing, according to the complaint.
The next day, the missing teen called authorities on a cellphone to say she was doing "OK" and was with Balletto in Sacramento, Calif., according to the complaint.
Police traced the called to West Sacramento, Calif., and located the teen at a hotel with Pearmain, where, according to the complaint, they found condoms, a pregnancy test, and an apparent script for the teen to use when she called authorities to say she was safe.
Pearmain was arrested and the minor was taken into protective custody.
On May 1, while executing a search warrant on Balletto's alleged extensive marijuana operation, authorities said they located Balletto inside a camp trailer and took him into custody.
A 4-foot-long metal box with air holes and human hair found inside was located on the property and appeared to have been "altered to imprison a human," according to the complaint.
Various contraptions that appeared "consistent with sexual bondage and sadomasochism" were also found during the search, the complaint said.
The teen told authorities she was kept in the box for three days and was given water through a hose, according to the complaint. The box was hoisted into the air and tilted, according to the authorities, so the water would "wash her off and rinse human waste from the inside of the box without letting her out."
A poem about life inside the box that appeared to have been written by the teen was found in Balletto's office during the search, the complaint said.
The teen described the marijuana operation as a "mission," according to the complaint, and said one of the reasons she was locked in the box was to protect the "mission."
According to the complaint, Pearmain told the teen they wanted to "help her" because she could "help them" because she was "good with trimming" the marijuana buds.
More than 1,000 marijuana plants were destroyed and a cache of weapons was seized from the property, according to the complaint.
The pair pleaded not guilty last week to the federal drug charges and were expected to appear again in federal court on July 31.
"Some in our community believe that marijuana grow operations are run by compassionate caregivers interested only in supplying medicine to the sick," U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said in a statement. "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.
"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."
It was unclear whether Balletto and Pearmain have attorneys at this time.