Sep 28, 2023 - News

Tim Ballard, anti-sex trafficking crusader, accused of sexual misconduct

Tim Ballard, founder and ex-CEO of Operation Underground Railroad poses in front of a screen with a SiriusXM logo.

Tim Ballard, founder and ex-CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, in 2016. Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Tim Ballard, the anti-sex-trafficking crusader and Senate hopeful, sexually harassed multiple women, an attorney alleged Thursday.

Driving the news: Attorney Suzette Rasmussen said she was speaking on behalf of "several" former employees and contractors of Operation Underground Railroad, the controversial nonprofit Ballard founded.

  • "We were subjected to sexual harassment, spiritual manipulation, grooming and sexual misconduct," Rasmussen said from the state Capitol steps, reading aloud a statement she attributed to the unidentified women.

Catch up quick: Media reports last week detailed allegations of Ballard's sexual misconduct during OUR's military-style child trafficking stings.

  • Women who joined the vigilante raids said Ballard, asked them to pose as his wife or girlfriend, and then sleep in his bed or shower with him as part of his ruse, Vice News and Utah-based freelance journalist Lynn Packer reported.
  • Ballard, who was the subject of this summer's surprise-hit movie "Sound of Freedom," abruptly left OUR around the time of the film's release. His departure followed an internal investigation into the harassment allegations, Vice reported.

Details: Rasmussen, previously a staff attorney for former Gov. Gary Herbert, disclosed scant detail about her clients or the specific allegations.

  • She would not provide the number of women who signed on to the statement, except to say Vice's estimate of seven victims "is pretty close to accurate."
  • Rasmussen would not say whether the women planned to file lawsuits, whether they filed police reports in the cities where the alleged misconduct occurred, or whether they felt OUR handled their reports adequately.
  • "I can say that complaints have been filed and statements were known for several months" before Thursday, Rasmussen said.

The other side: Ballard called the accusations "baseless inventions designed to destroy me and the movement we have built," per a statement released by his new anti-trafficking nonprofit, The Spear Fund.

  • The "couples ruse" enables men on OUR raids to credibly pose as customers without having to "partake of what's being offered" because their wives or girlfriends will object, Ballard said in an Instagram video posted this week. That way the man can entice a trafficker, but then explain why he can't immediately avail himself of the sex he's paying for, Ballard says.
  • He also posted an anonymous testimonial from a woman who said she experienced "zero inappropriate behavior" while enacting the "couples ruse" during OUR's international stings.

What they're saying: "The women have remained silent as much as possible to this point," Rasmusssen said. "As further denials of these allegations come from the other side, they felt it was very important that the public know the truth."

Context: Ballard and OUR are under fire after a stream of media reports detailing a now-closed criminal investigation into the group.

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Ballard is a member, issued a rare public denouncement of Ballard for allegedly claiming a high-ranking church leader endorsed Ballard's personal business ventures.
  • According to case documents obtained by Axios from the criminal investigation, former operatives and employees with OUR told investigators that the group in recent years exaggerated or misled donors about its involvement in rescue missions.

Of note: OUR confirmed in a prepared statement Thursday that Ballard resigned "at the conclusion of" an investigation into "an allegation of behavior that violated company policy."

  • "Mr. Ballard's alleged misconduct does not represent OUR's values or others within the organization," the statement read.
  • In a written statement to Axios, an OUR spokesperson noted that the investigative documents are from a case that was closed without charges.
  • The statement added that OUR provided "favorable audits ... following recognized general accounting principles by a reputable third party" to prosecutors, as well as information about its current operations.
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