Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes will not support anti-human-trafficking activist Tim Ballard’s — or any other Utahns’ — potential run for the U.S. Senate next year. Reyes’ withholding of support comes as Ballard, whom the attorney general has considered a friend, has been accused of sexual misconduct by former employees of Operation Underground Railroad.
In a statement, Reyes said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the recent allegations made against Ballard, the anti-human-trafficking organization’s founder.
“In light of so many unanswered questions and concerns, Attorney General Reyes has decided not to endorse or support Tim Ballard for the U.S. Senate race,” Alan Crooks, Reyes’ longtime general consultant, told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Crooks later clarified in a new statement Friday morning that Reyes “will not be supporting or endorsing anyone in Utah’s 2024 US Senate race.”
Shortly after Sen. Mitt Romney announced this month that he would not seek reelection, Reyes took to social media to say he would not run for Romney’s seat but planned to endorse a “dear friend” in next year’s race.
“That opens up an opportunity for a dear friend of mine who is a great conservative, patriot, and warrior to run and serve as the next Senator from Utah,” Reyes wrote, without directly mentioning Ballard.
Reyes’ support for Ballard evaporated following allegations that sexual misconduct forced his exit from OUR. Ballard was also condemned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for “morally unacceptable” behavior.
Publicly separating himself from Ballard is remarkable given how intertwined the two have been during Reyes’ tenure as Utah’s top law enforcement official. Shortly after he took office, Reyes was meeting weekly with Ballard to discuss establishing an “International Child Rescue Laboratory” in Salt Lake City, according to Brigham Young University’s The Daily Universe.
In 2015, Reyes accompanied Ballard to Colombia for a OUR mission. An OUR operation was the centerpiece of “Sound of Freedom,” the fictionalized biographical film about Ballard released earlier this year. Reyes was given an associate producer credit on the film and has referred to Ballard as his “partner.”
An internal memo released by the attorney general’s office as part of an open records request shows that, as of Dec. 23, 2020, Reyes and his chief of staff, Ric Cantrell, were to be effectively walled off from any involvement in a criminal investigation into Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad that was being conducted by the Davis County Attorney (DCA) and the FBI because both men had a “personal relationship with Ballard and OUR.”
“Any communication between DCA/FBI and the [attorney general’s office] regarding Ballard and OUR will be through Chief Criminal Deputy Spencer Austin and his designees in the [office],” according to the memo creating the conflict screen.
Staff was prohibited from sharing information about the case with Reyes or Cantrell and both were prohibited from communicating with potential witnesses in the investigation.
Ballard resigned from OUR earlier this year at the conclusion of an internal investigation, according to the anti-human-tracking group.
“Mr. Ballard’s alleged misconduct does not represent OUR’s values or others within the organization,” OUR said this week in a statement this week.
On Thursday, a lawyer who says she represents several women who were former OUR employees alleged that Ballard engaged in sexual misconduct while he was the head of OUR.
“Our involvement with Operation Underground Railroad was rooted in our commitment to fighting against human trafficking,” read attorney Suzette Rasmussen from a statement on the employees’ behalf. “But while engaging in that noble cause, we were subjected to sexual harassment, spiritual manipulation, grooming and sexual misconduct.”
Reyes said he was troubled by the allegations of improper behavior leveled against Ballard by the former employees.
“I am shocked and deeply saddened by [Thursday’s] allegations, but these women must be heard to ensure all credible evidence can be presented,” Reyes said in the statement. “Beyond that, I won’t comment on the allegations made [Thursday] because I was not present to witness any of the alleged conduct. I don’t have any information that can prove or disprove these claims.”
“I can say that in all of my interactions with Tim Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad, I have never seen or experienced anything improper nor illegal,” he added.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said at his monthly news conference last week that he believes in a “system where people are innocent until proven guilty.”
“The allegations from several different women are incredibly disturbing and just awful,” Cox added. “I hope they’re not true, but we have multiple organizations that are speaking out, and that’s deeply troubling.”
Ballard has 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 anti-human-trafficking activists had an excuse not to engage in physical contact with the children who were allegedly being trafficked.
VICE News first reported that women who went on operations with Ballard alleged he coerced them into sharing a bed or showering together to sell the roles.
A spokesperson for Ballard did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.