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Lawyers appointed for California defendants in pot farm kidnap case

Ryan Balletto, 30, (L) and Patrick Pearmain, 25, are pictured in a combination of arrest photos that was relased by the Lake County Sheriff'
Ryan Balletto, 30, (L) and Patrick Pearmain, 25, are pictured in a combination of arrest photos that was relased by the Lake County Sheriff'

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A federal judge appointed defense lawyers on Wednesday to represent two men accused of holding a teenage girl captive on their marijuana farm and locking her inside an oversized toolbox.

Patrick Pearmain, 25, and Ryan Balletto, 30, were charged in a criminal complaint unsealed last week with conspiring to distribute more than 1,000 illegally grown marijuana plants and with using the 15-year-old girl in connection with their alleged drug ring. Balletto also faces a firearms charge.

Appointed to defend them at taxpayer expense were Robert Waggener, a Bay Area attorney who last year briefly represented San Francisco County Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in a high-profile domestic abuse case, representing Pearmain, and public defender Jodi Linker, representing Balletto.

"Neither defendant has the funds to pay for an attorney and the public defender can only represent one defendant in one case," Waggener said in an email.

Waggener said U.S. Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas appointed him from a "designated panel" to represent Pearmain.

The two men were arrested in May on state drug charges, as well as false imprisonment, rape and other sex offenses stemming from the captivity of the girl, whom police said was held on the men's remote pot farm in Lake County in Northern California.

The state charges were dismissed to allow federal prosecutors to more quickly pursue the case, which they seized on as part of a crackdown on pot cultivators and dispensaries they say are fronts for large-scale drug traffickers operating under the guise of California's medical marijuana law.

Federal sex-related charges were not filed against the men because the girl was not transported across state lines. State sex charges could be refiled against them, the local district attorney's office said.

Pearmain and Balletto, both in jail, are due to be arraigned on Friday.

Balletto served from 2002 until 2008 as a U.S. Marine Corps reservist and remains on inactive reserve status, Marine Corps spokeswoman Yvonne Carlock said.

He came to the attention of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2011 when investigators learned he was buying a 1980 Cessna airplane in Florida for $185,000 in cash, according to a federal complaint. Prosecutors later charged Balletto with failing to register the plane, and he settled the case by paying a fine of $19,505 in February, according to court documents.

(Reporting by Emmett Berg and Ronnie Cohen in San Francisco; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)

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