Women accusing OUR founder Tim Ballard of sexual assault speak out

Six plaintiffs who have filed three lawsuits against OUR founder Tim Ballard said they are seeking accountability.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Women who are accusing Tim Ballard of sexual misconduct speak at a news conference in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. From left are Celeste Borys, Mike Borys, Kira Lynch, Jordana (Bree) Righter, Sashleigha (Sasha) Hightower and Mary Hall.

Speaking publicly for the first time, five women suing Operation Underground Railroad founder Tim Ballard for allegations of sexual misconduct and assault said he and the nonprofit need to be held accountable.

The women contend OUR leadership and board members knew about internal accusations of sexual assault against Ballard and did nothing to protect them or stop his alleged behavior.

Celeste Borys, who served as Ballard’s executive assistant and frequently traveled around the globe with him, and the four other women also said they had never seen a single child rescued on any OUR operations.

“The truth is finally coming to light and the evil — the pure evil — can no longer hide,” said Kira Lynch, one of the five women who spoke at a news conference on Tuesday.

“They defrauded all of us. They defrauded multimillion-dollar donors,” added Bree Righter, who filed her lawsuit against Ballard and OUR on Monday. “They’re not rescuing children. They’re making a morality play for money.”

A total of seven women and Borys’ husband are suing Ballard and OUR. Two of the suits allege that Ballard exploited the “couples ruse” — in which male and female operators would pose as partners on rescue missions — to coerce the women into various sexual encounters, including lap dances, touching, kissing and sexual assault.

Ballard has previously issued a series of statements that he “vehemently denies” the allegations leveled against him and that he would be vindicated in court.

On Wednesday, attorneys with the California-based law firm now representing Ballard issued a statement saying that they “look forward to fighting these claims and revealing all of their inaccuracies.”

“The Ballards will not let what they view as politically charged false claims deter them from continuing their mission of saving children from the scourge of trafficking,” said the lawyers, Whitney Bernstein, Alexis Federico and Thomas Bienert Jr., noting that Tim Ballard had not been served with the lawsuits, the first of which was filed six weeks ago.

“We very much look forward to litigation on the merits of these accusations in the courtroom,” they said.

An OUR spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement responding to Righter’s filing, OUR said that since its inception, it “has carefully upheld its obligations as an independent [nonprofit charity] with appropriate governance and accountability structures, which are now under review by present management.”

OUR’s statement added that it “is currently conducting, on average, five commissions per week, which include a combination of boots on the ground, intelligence gathering, and contributing resources to law enforcement worldwide.”

But Lynch said that OUR leadership learned of her complaint against Ballard in 2021 “and nothing happened. As a matter of fact, they were going to come after me to silence me.”

Sasha Hightower, another one of the five plaintiffs who spoke, said she is aware of other women who have been paid cash settlements by OUR to remain silent.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The women who are accusing Tim Ballard of sexual misconduct hold a news conference in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. From left are Jordana (Bree) Righter, Sashleigha (Sasha) Hightower and Mary Hall.

Hightower added that OUR and Ballard’s representatives have issued statements that publicly disparaged the women and their attorneys. “The way in which they have handled us, the very victims they swear to protect, has been gut-wrenching,” she said.

“How many more women have to come forward,” she asked, for OUR “to take this seriously and see this for what it is?”

Mary Hall said that she and other women tried to resolve the matters privately, but OUR would not hold Ballard accountable.

“When the truth is not being heard in a private setting, sometimes shining a light on it and giving it a larger voice is the only option,” Hall said. “Now is the time for OUR and Tim to take this accountability.”

Righter’s suit asserts that her eye socket was shattered during a training at OUR’s Draper gym and that she was sexually assaulted by another OUR employee after Ballard urged him to be sexually aggressive toward her.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kira Lynch clenches her hands as the women who are accusing Tim Ballard of sexual misconduct hold a news conference in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023.

Celeste Borys filed a complaint about Ballard with the Lindon Police Department earlier this month, which was obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through an open records request. Police Chief Mike Brower confirmed that there is an active investigation into the allegations.

Their attorney, Suzette Rasmussen, declined to say if any of the other women have gone to police, saying they have been asked not to comment on ongoing investigations.

The women also said that Ballard played on their desire to help rescue trafficked children as well as their religious faith, invoking his relationship with senior Latter-day Saint apostle M. Russell Ballard, who died last week, and other top church leaders. (The two Ballards are not related.)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints condemned Ballard in September for “morally unacceptable” behavior and for allegedly saying M. Russell Ballard was a central figure in support of OUR and Tim Ballard’s private business efforts. Mike Borys said when he heard that statement, he pulled off the freeway and broke down in tears.

“It was the first kind of crack in the facade,” Mike Borys said, “and it was a little bit of vindication to know that this guy isn’t going to keep walking on water forever in Utah.”

The women, he said, “are real victims” of Tim Ballard, “who used a noble cause to exercise his twisted fantasies.”

Since launching Operation Underground Railroad a decade ago to combat child trafficking, Ballard has become an international celebrity and was the central figure in “Sound of Freedom,” a movie loosely based on his work, which has grossed more than $217 million at the box office.

Then-President Donald Trump had appointed Ballard to a White House anti-trafficking task force, and Ballard was teasing that he would run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

But after women recently complained to OUR about his behavior, he was put on leave. After an investigation, the board demanded his resignation. Documents in the lawsuit suggest he received more than $600,000 in severance. He currently is listed as a senior adviser for The SPEAR Fund, another anti-trafficking group.

Until now, the women had been referred to in their lawsuits under pseudonym initials. Those who might criticize them for not leaving Ballard and OUR sooner, or for not coming forward before now, said Celeste Borys, don’t comprehend the “the level of manipulation that Tim Ballard used.”

“There are reasons victims stay with their abusers,” she said, and alleged “crimes of this nature go unreported, especially when the man in question is powerful, connected, worshipped and protected by Utah’s attorney general.”

Attorney General Sean Reyes’ decadelong relationship with Ballard has been under heightened scrutiny since the allegations of Ballard’s misconduct emerged. Reyes participated on OUR operations, promoted the nonprofit and its fundraisers, appeared on Ballard’s podcasts and alongside him in speaking engagements and received an associate producer credit on the movie “Sound of Freedom,” based loosely on Ballard’s work.

Reyes has said he was unaware of Ballard’s alleged treatment of the women, and that the accusations should be taken seriously and investigated.

“Where’s our attorney general protecting these women?” asked their attorney, Alan Mortensen. Instead of traveling the globe and promoting the film, he said, “[Reyes] should have been home taking care of our citizens.”