Operation Underground Railroad denies misleading donors; Tim Ballard explains ‘couples ruse’

OUR says it engages in several rescues a week. The group’s founder releases a video about how women would pose as spouses on operations in order to liberate children.

Operation Underground Railroad is denying allegations that the anti-human-trafficking nonprofit misled donors by allowing them to believe the group was still conducting rescue missions when, according to former employees, it had not done so in years.

A statement Tuesday to The Salt Lake Tribune said that the organization “is conducting on average multiple missions a week in operations.”

“Any representation, past or present, that OUR does not participate in rescue missions is false,” it added. “OUR’s ongoing work represents a combination of boots on the ground, intelligence gathering and contributing resources to law enforcement.”

The assertion comes in response to statements made by two former employees in interviews with investigators from the FBI and Davis County attorney’s office that Matt Osborne, the head of OUR since it parted ways with its founder, Tim Ballard, had told each of them that they no longer took part in rescue missions.

Essentially, the former high-ranking employees said, OUR was letting donors believe their money was funding rescue missions, when the money was actually being given to law enforcement and other nonprofit organizations, with OUR taking a portion to pay OUR salaries, make investments and foot other expenses.

“OUR is engaged in the fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation,” the organization’s statement said. “OUR investigators work to identify as many victims of human trafficking as possible, all while working closely with local law enforcement.”

Falling-out with the LDS Church

OUR has been sucked into the whirlwind of criticism and allegations around Tim Ballard, who has recently been accused of exploiting the name of M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to promote his business ventures and, according to VICE News, engaging in sexual misconduct with multiple women while on OUR operations.

The church issued a stinging rebuke of Tim Ballard, saying that the 94-year-old apostle (the two Ballards are not related) severed his relationship with the OUR founder “once it became clear Tim Ballard had betrayed their friendship, through the unauthorized use of President Ballard’s name for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage and [for] activity regarded as morally unacceptable.”

Tim Ballard has adamantly denied both allegations and suggested someone from the church is operating without approval from the faith’s leadership to torpedo his potential bid for Mitt Romney’s U.S. Senate seat.

On Monday, Tim Ballard posted a video on his Instagram account explaining how OUR teams would employ a tactic called the “couples ruse” on their rescue operations. Ballard said that taking a woman posing as a wife while soliciting sex from underage children provided cover, so the operatives had an excuse not to engage in acts with the child.

“You go in and one of you could pretend that, ‘Yes, I want to partake in this sex act with this woman or this child, but I can’t because my girlfriend won’t let me,’” Tim Ballard said in the video. “But the bottom line is we blocked for each other. So, the trafficker sees the situation and recognizes that I have every excuse not to partake.”

Another OUR departure

VICE News, citing unnamed sources, reported that Ballard took liberties with women posing as his wife on undercover missions, coercing them into sharing a bed or showering together to sell the roles. An OUR spokesperson said in a statement that Ballard left the organization after the group hired a law firm to investigate the misconduct allegations.

Also this week, OUR’s chief legal officer, Alessandra Serano, posted on her LinkedIn page that she has left the organization.

“I’m proud to announce that I resigned from my current position at Operation Underground Railroad earlier this month,” Serano wrote. “I stand with survivors no matter who or where they are. #MeToo.”

Serano, who told The Tribune she had no further comment on her departure, is a former federal prosecutor who handled an early case that Tim Ballard was involved in that Ballard characterized as a formative event in his evolution. Fictionalized elements of the case later became the basis for the movie “Sound of Freedom,” in which Ballard is the central character.

Key portions of the film and the version of events that Ballard has told at various speaking engagements are at odds with the events depicted in court documents that Serano filed in the case. Tim Ballard has said those court documents were wrong.