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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Tim Ballard, the founder of the popular Utah-based non-profit Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), has been under heat lately for several different allegations.
The issues began to compound after the independent film Sound of Freedom, featuring Ballard as the main character, amassed an astounding $217.3 million at the box office, according to box office reports provided by Google.
The film brought attention to what was already both a well-loved and thoroughly critiqued non-profit organization.
Within a few months, former investigations would be brought to light by Vice News, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would openly rebuke Ballard, and several lawsuits would be filed against him alleging he sexually abused several women before and during anti-human trafficking missions.
By that time, Ballard had left O.U.R. and had joined The SPEAR Fund, where he serves as a senior advisor. Ballard, along with both organizations, have since made numerous responses to the allegations.
In an effort to dispel some of the confusion, here is a deep-dive explanation of the controversies surrounding Tim Ballard and the organizations connected to his name.
Timeline & Overview
Oct. 2013 — Operation Underground Railroad is founded by Tim Ballard, a Utahn who claims he previously worked for the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security as part of the Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. The organization fights human trafficking through undercover rescue missions across the world. As of 2023, the organization claims it has rescued over 6,000 trafficking victims in over a thousand operations.
2020 — The Davis County Attorney’s Office along with the FBI began criminally investigating Ballard, O.U.R., Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, among others mainly over concerns of the organization allegedly misleading donors. This included an extensive search into O.U.R. paying thousands of dollars a month to a “psychic medium” to give them intel for their anti-human trafficking raids. The psychic medium would allegedly contact dead prophets from the Book of Mormon, in particular one named Nephi, for information on where to find missing children.
2023 – Summer
March 2023 — The investigation was concluded by Davis County. No charges were filed due to insufficient evidence, according to Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings.
June 2023 — Tim Ballard stepped down as CEO of O.U.R., leaving the organization entirely, according to VICE News. The organization did not initially announce his departure and did not confirm it until the allegations began to surface. Many claim he was pressured to resign due to the sexual abuse allegations.
July 2023 — The independent film “Sound of Freedom” became a surprise box-office hit. The film starred Jim Caviezel playing the role of Tim Ballard. It sparked controversy between those who adamantly supported O.U.R. and other anti-human trafficking activists who disagreed with their methods. Many viewers were still unaware that Ballard had left the organization at the time.
2023 – Fall
Sept. 13, 2023 — Utah Senator Mitt Romney announced he will not seek reelection. Rumors began circulating throughout the month that Tim Ballard was interested in running for Romney’s seat.
Sept. 15, 2023 — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement, first to Vice News, denouncing claims of the Church’s connection to Tim Ballard, calling his activities “morally unacceptable.” Ballard is an active and vocal member of the Church. This statement shocked many community members and supporters of Ballard. Some church members and Ballard supporters refused to believe the statement had been issued by the Church, as it was issued directly to media outlets and was not posted on church websites or social media. ABC4 reported on both the statement and Ballard’s response. The Church’s communications department sent the statement directly to our news station.
Sept. 18, 2023 — Tim Ballard responded through The SPEAR Fund. He claimed that the Church did not verify the statement for him and that it came through a “tabloid” (in reference to VICE News). He also said that he is in good standing with the Church and believes in the faith with his whole heart.
Sept. 19, 2023 — Sexual abuse allegations involving Tim Ballard started gaining attention, which he has continually disputed calling them “baseless.” The allegations which came from anonymous sources initially reported on by Vice News, claimed he would coerce the women on his missions to engage in sexual activities for the sake of the undercover operation.
Sept. 28, 2023 — An attorney speaking on behalf of a group of women responded after Ballard disputed the claims. Attorney Suzette Rasmussen said the women had been subjected to “sexual harassment, spiritual manipulation, grooming, and sexual misconduct” by Ballard while working with O.U.R.
Sept. 29, 2023 — Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the allegations and that the women must be heard in order to ensure all credible evidence can be presented.
Oct. 6, 2023 — Political commenter, and friend of Ballard, Glenn Beck said he felt “completely duped” after he requested his news team investigate the allegations. He is the founder of The Nazarene Fund which had closely collaborated with O.U.R in anti-human trafficking efforts.
Oct. 9, 2023 — Five women, who remain anonymous, filed a lawsuit against Tim Ballard, O.U.R, and other affiliated organizations claiming Ballard is “a sexual predator” who allegedly manipulated and sexually assaulted them under the guise of fighting human trafficking. They claimed the abuse took place through the undercover tool called the “Couples Ruse,” where a woman would pretend to be Ballard’s wife in order to prevent detection by pedophiles if he refused to engage in sexual activity with trafficked women. While this tool was a standard policy in O.U.R., the women filing the lawsuit say he used it to coerce them to engage in sexual activities with him by claiming it was necessary for the success of the mission.
Oct. 9, 2023 — O.U.R. and The Spear Fund responded to the lawsuit. O.U.R. said after reviewing the complaint, “It categorically denies the allegations as they relate to O.U.R.” They continued to say it “looks forward to the litigation process and is confident that the truth will prevail.” The SPEAR Fund said, “Mr. Ballard vehemently denies the allegations brought by these unnamed women.”
Oct. 10, 2023 — A second lawsuit was filed on behalf of a married couple who is remaining anonymous for now, according to Mike Green, an attorney involved in the case. The lawsuit allegations are similar to the ones made in the first lawsuit. The lawsuit claimed Ballard’s manipulation and grooming led to the breakup and damage of at least two marriages. The documents, which are included in ABC4’s original article, claimed they were threatened by a phone call that led the plaintiffs to contact the police. In the lawsuit, one plaintiff claimed that Ballard allegedly kissed her neck, lifted up her shirt, and taught her how to have “fake” sex as part of the training to work in an operation.
Oct. 11, 2023 — Tim and his wife Katherine Ballard released a statement through The SPEAR Fund saying that of the five women who came forward, which they said are “still without names and faces,” only two went on actual operations. They said three didn’t make it through training. The statement also said Ballard has agreed to permanently retire from undercover operations and work on applying “the lessons learned in the field” to improve future operations. “We start with recognition of the post-trauma inflicted on all those who went in harm’s way, and know that there are years of healing needed ahead,” the statement read.
Nov. 2, 2023 — The initial complaint filed by five women was amended to include new allegations claiming Ballard had a closer relationship with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and the LDS Church than was previously stated. The amendment claimed Reyes worked with O.U.R. to preempt fraud accusations against Ballard. In addition, the filing also reportedly claims that the LDS Church provided O.U.R. with tithing records in order to assist the non-profit in targeting wealthy donors of the LDS faith.
Nov. 3, 2023 — The Attorney General’s Office released a statement saying “it categorically denies” the claims and called them “false, defamatory per se and unethical.” It said they are “based on pure speculation” and mentioned that no charges were ever filed by the FBI and Davis County Attorney after the 2020-2023 investigation. The Church spokesperson also later provided a statement to ABC4 saying the accused church leader “President [M. Russell] Ballard has never released tithing records to O.U.R. or any other organization.”
Nov. 16, 2023 — A report filed with the Lindon Police Department listed Ballard as the suspect in a sexual assault case. This marked the first time Ballard was under a criminal investigation in regard to sexual assault claims. The woman who filed the report is being represented by Suzette Rasmussen. The attorney is also representing the seven people involved in the prior civil lawsuits.
Nov. 20, 2023 — A third lawsuit was filed by former marine Jordana Bree Righter against Tim Ballard and another operative, Matthew Cooper. The lawsuit claims Righter was sexually assaulted while conducting operations under the “Couples Ruse.” While the plaintiff of this lawsuit is also being represented by Suzette Rasmussen, she was the first to openly include her name as part of the public lawsuit.
Nov 11, 2023 — O.U.R. responded to the third lawsuit providing additional details about Ballard’s involvement in the organization in recent years. The organization said it was “deeply sorry for any harm or distress that Tim Ballard’s actions may have caused to anyone associated with O.U.R.” It then continued to say Ballard participated in less than 1% of operations in 2020-2023 despite him being the public face of the nonprofit. The statement said O.U.R. currently conducts five commissions per week on average.
The controversies surrounding Ballard are extensive and ongoing and the above timeline only provides an overview of the most recent events. For additional information, click on the links above to read the original articles. ABC4 will continue to update this article as more information comes to light.
ABC4 received 75 pages of the Davis County criminal investigation from 2020-2023 as part of a public records request. The documents can be read below: