Operation Underground Railroad countersues a woman who accused Tim Ballard of sexual assault

Attorneys for OUR say the woman, a former employee and assistant to Ballard, made defamatory statements about the anti-trafficking nonprofit.

(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 and Mike Borys. Operation Underground Railroad has countersued the Borys.

Operation Underground Railroad is countersuing a former employee and her husband, alleging in a court filing that she made defamatory statements about the anti-trafficking nonprofit and illegally accessed company computers to gather material used in her own sexual assault lawsuit.

Celeste and Michael Borys sued OUR’s founder, Tim Ballard, the nonprofit and its board of directors in October, accusing Ballard of “violent sexual assaults” while she was his executive assistant and that OUR had enabled the abuse to take place and failed to intervene.

On Friday, OUR responded by asking a judge to remove it from the lawsuit, and followed up on Monday by asking the court to order the couple to pay for damages and attorney fees resulting from her alleged violation of a nondisclosure agreement and defamatory statements that had harmed OUR’s reputation.

“While we would have preferred to settle this matter amicably, we have no choice but to defend the organization against Ms. and Mr. Borys’ attacks by setting the record straight,” OUR said in a statement.

The Borys’ attorney, Suzette Rasmussen, said that her clients look forward to defending themselves against OUR’s countersuit.

“While OUR’s counterclaims were not unexpected,” Rasmussen said, “OUR’s re-traumatizing of victims is disappointingly consistent with its corporate culture.”

The Borys’ lawsuit alleged that Ballard manipulated, groomed and sexually assaulted Celeste while she was working as his executive assistant. OUR is accused in that suit of “knowingly enabling a serial predator (Timothy Ballard) to operate with impunity” by requiring nondisclosure agreements, withholding information and sanctioning the so-called “couples ruse.”

Borys and six other women allege in three lawsuits that Ballard exploited the couples ruse — in which women would pose as Ballard’s partner in an attempt to rescue trafficked children — in order to manipulate, abuse and assault them.

Borys also filed a police report in November alleging Ballard had sexually assaulted her, leading to the first known criminal investigation of Ballard. Earlier this month, Attorney General Sean Reyes announced his office was also launching a criminal investigation of Ballard and OUR — although he was recused from the matter because of his decadelong friendship with Ballard and close ties to OUR.

OUR’s attorneys contend that Borys waived her right to sue when she signed a separation agreement with the nonprofit. Further, they accuse her of violating a nondisparagement clause and illegally accessing Ballard’s computer files and providing them to her attorneys as evidence in the suits against Ballard.

According to OUR’s filing, the nonprofit’s board of directors met April 25, the day after another OUR employee lodged a formal complaint accusing Ballard of sexual misconduct, and decided to put Ballard on administrative leave pending an investigation by an outside law firm.

During that time, OUR’s court filing alleges, Ballard was promoting his upcoming movie, “Sound of Freedom,” and Borys, who was warned not to work for him on OUR time, continued to assist him, allegedly taking vacation time to travel with him. When investigators interviewed her, the filing states, she did not report that any inappropriate conduct had occurred.

She told co-workers at the time, according to the OUR countersuit, that allegations and investigations were “fake news and evil” and had previously texted the woman making the claims against Ballard accusing her of lying and questioning why she was doing it.

“Ms. Borys’ own words and text messages paint a very different picture than the narrative she presented,” the statement said. “Ms. Borys was one of the staunchest opponents of the allegations against Mr. Ballard and was not afraid to make her opinion known.”

After the findings of the investigation were presented to the board, OUR’s attorneys say that the board voted unanimously that Ballard must resign immediately or be fired.

When Borys’ position at OUR was later eliminated, she signed a separation agreement in which OUR asserts she waived the right to sue.

Borys’ attorneys contend that agreement should be void because it was signed under duress, because both OUR and Ballard concealed why he was leaving the organization, and because it was intended to conceal his alleged criminal conduct.