An attorney who said she represents “several” former Operation Underground Railroad employees said Thursday that her clients were “subjected to sexual harassment, spiritual manipulation, grooming and sexual misconduct” at the hands of Tim Ballard, the anti-human-trafficking organization’s founder and former head.
The women lodged complaints with OUR’s leadership team several months ago, leading to an internal investigation, according to their attorney, Suzette Rasmussen.
“We now stand together to affirm the truth behind these allegations,” Rasmussen said, reading from a prepared statement at a news conference on the steps of the Utah Capitol.
In a statement Thursday, Operation Underground Railroad said Ballard was immediately placed on administrative leave while it investigated the allegations.
“At the conclusion of our investigation, as previously stated by OUR, Mr. Ballard resigned,” the statement said. “Mr. Ballard’s alleged misconduct does not represent OUR’s values or others within the organization,” which aims to combat child sex trafficking worldwide.
A spokesperson for Ballard declined to comment.
Ballard has previously denied engaging in any sexual misconduct. In a video posted Monday, he asserted that, at times, female operatives posing as his wife or significant other engaged in a “couples ruse” so that undercover operatives had an excuse not to engage in physical contact with the children that were allegedly being sex trafficked.
VICE News first reported that women who went on operations with Ballard said he coerced them into sharing a bed or showering together to sell the roles.
“Our involvement with Operation Underground Railroad was rooted in our commitment to fighting against human trafficking,” Rasmussen read Thursday from a statement on the women’s behalf. “But while engaging in that noble cause, we were subjected to sexual harassment, spiritual manipulation, grooming and sexual misconduct.”
Rasmussen would not provide additional details about the identities of the women making the accusations, the number of women she represents, the nature of Ballard’s alleged misconduct, whether they had spoken with law enforcement about the matter, or if they planned to sue.
“Though we value our privacy as we work to rebuild our lives, we also feel a responsibility to speak out and state unequivocally that these allegations are true,” Rasmussen said. “We acknowledge the risks involved in challenging someone as prominent as Tim Ballard. We will reveal our stories in our own time and on our own terms, but for now, we choose to remain anonymous.”
Earlier this week, Eric Moutsos, a prominent Utah libertarian, posted a video on his Instagram account stating that he had spoken to multiple women who told him that they had been victims of “manipulation and sexual predatory behavior.”
Moutsos said the women he spoke with alleged that Ballard engaged in “systematic grooming tactics” that resulted in a range of sexual activity. Moutsos said he was told that Ballard persuaded the women to participate, in part, by playing on the women’s desire to help children and telling them it was condoned by M. Russell Ballard, the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (The two men are not related).
When asked Thursday about President Ballard condoning Tim Ballard’s alleged grooming tactics, church spokesperson Doug Andersen pointed to the faith’s earlier statement, which condemned the OUR founder for “unauthorized use of President Ballard’s name for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage and [for] activity regarded as morally unacceptable.”
On Tuesday, Tim Ballard posted another video insisting that “we are under attack.” He alleged that “all sorts of falsehoods” were being directed at him because he is “fighting against evil.”
”I am faithful to my wife and to my God and that is the truth,” he said. “You can believe whatever you want, but I’m telling you that is the truth.”
At Thursday’s news conference, Rasmussen said she believes there are “several” other women she is not currently representing who were also victims of Ballard but have not come forward, and she encouraged them to do so.
Rasmussen earned her law degree at church-owned Brigham Young University and worked in former Gov. Gary Herbert’s office and for World Trade Center Utah before joining the firm of Freeman Lovell, where she is a partner.
— Senior religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack contributed to this story.