Five women filed a lawsuit Monday against Tim Ballard, the founder of the anti-child-trafficking nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad, alleging he exploited the mission of his organization to sexually assault them.
The filing comes weeks after Vice News first reported allegations of sexual and business malfeasance, triggering a stunning collapse for Ballard’s public image. That included a rebuke by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accusing Ballard of trying to exploit his friendship with senior apostle M. Russell Ballard “for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage and activity regarded as morally unacceptable.”
The lawsuit, filed in Utah’s 3rd District Court, alleges that Ballard would in some instances fly women who would be posing as his wife or partner from across the country to Utah, because he wanted to hone their sexual chemistry for the so-called “couples ruse.”
The women allege Ballard would ask them to perform lap dances and join him for couples massages. Ballard also would frequent Salt Lake Valley strip clubs, the lawsuit alleges, where he would pay for lap dances, drink alcohol and take pills, all of which was paid for with OUR funds.
Through the ruses, the suit alleges, Ballard coerced the women to engage in various sexual acts short of penetration, supposedly in order to maintain the appearance that they were a couple. The suit also alleges that Ballard would encourage the women to get a Brazilian wax of their pubic area.
Each time, it is alleged, Ballard would ask the women, “Is there anything you wouldn’t do to save a child?” He also played on their faith, the suit alleged; almost all of the women accusing Ballard are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Ballard began to claim that President M. Russell Ballard” — who is the acting president of the church’s Quorum of The Twelve Apostles — “had given Ballard permission to do the couples ruse, as long as there is no sexual intercourse or kissing on the lips, and had given him a special priesthood blessing as such,” the suit alleges.
Asked previously and specifically about the allegations that Tim Ballard had suggested that President Ballard — the two are not related — condoned his sexual activities, the church referred to the earlier statement that Tim Ballard had made “unauthorized use of President Ballard’s name for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage and activity regarded as morally unacceptable.”
The suit also alleges that Janet Russon, a psychic that was on OUR’s payroll, would tell the women that they had been married to Ballard in a previous life, “so their conduct was acceptable.”
The women filed the lawsuit under pseudonyms to protect their identities. Each provided lengthy statements detailing their alleged encounters with Ballard. Two of the women said their marriages have broken up as a result of Ballard’s actions.
The Tribune has reached out to a spokesman for Ballard for comment, but had not immediately heard back.
The women’s lawsuit also claims Ballard would receive ketamine treatments and dictate prophesies where he would speak to Nephi, a prophet mentioned in the Book of Mormon, and would dictate prophesies of his future as a U.S. senator, president of the United States and, ultimately, a Latter-day Saint prophet — where he could usher in the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Based on their “reasonable belief and inquiry,” the women’s lawyers wrote in the complaint that “upon learning of the couples ruse and how Ballard used it, the Mormon Church excommunicated Ballard.” The church has refused to comment on whether Ballard’s membership has been withdrawn — which is how the religion now refers to excommunication.
Ballard resigned from OUR in June, telling The Tribune in July that his departure had been planned in advance so he could focus his energy on other endeavors. However, OUR said in a statement that after complaints were made about his conduct, Ballard was put on administrative leave and an investigation was launched that led to his resignation.
The lawsuit alleges that was purely for show. The suit claims Ballard received a generous severance package, but had arranged with OUR’s directors to remain the face of OUR and continue to raise money.
In a statement Monday night, OUR said it “categorically denies the allegations as they relate to OUR.” The organization accused the attorney representing the accusers of seeming to be “intent on litigating her client’s issues in a public forum” and said that it “looks forward to the litigation process and is confident that the truth will prevail.”
The fundraising Ballard did while he was with OUR, the suit alleges, was bolstered considerably by his proximity to prominent friends ans supporters — like President Donald Trump, conservative talk show host Glenn Beck and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and leaders in the LDS Church to build his reputation and bolster fundraising.
It also is alleged to have benefitted Ballard personally. While OUR is a nonprofit, the lawsuit claims Ballard reaped $14 million for his for-profit entities.
Reyes, in particular, promoted Ballard’s work, participated in a rescue operation with the group, backed his potential U.S. Senate candidacy and, the suit alleges, lent his reputation to Ballard, “giving Ballard the cover of the top law enforcement officer in the State of Utah to carry out his purposes … even while consumer complaints and criminal investigations were pouring into his office regarding the improprieties of OUR and Ballard.”
A spokesman for Reyes said the office never received any consumer complaints.
The Davis County Attorney provided the Attorney General’s office with evidence from a criminal investigation into OUR that Davis County and the FBI had been conducting; but documents obtained through an open records request show that as of December 2020, Reyes and his chief of staff were walled off from having information on the investigation or discussing it with anyone in the office. The investigation was closed in 2022 with no charges filed.
An open records request to the Utah Department of Consumer Protection last month did not yield any consumer complaints about OUR’s practices.
Ballard founded OUR in 2013, leaving the Department of Homeland Security because, he said, he felt he could rescue more children outside of government. He made a splash in the news media promoting OUR’s undercover rescue operations in places like Colombia and Haiti in videos on the organization’s website and in documentary films.
Its prominent supporters over the years have included Beck, the talk show host, self-help guru Tony Robbins and Reyes. According to tax filings, in the organization’s first year it raised less than $1 million, but that quickly grew to nearly $7 million by 2016 and shot up to $47.5 million in 2020 before falling off the last two years.
Ballard achieved his own level of stardom, testifying before Congress, being invited to the White House by President Trump, and being the subject of “Sound of Freedom,” a movie based loosely on his work through OUR. The movie, to date, has grossed $217 million — more than the latest “Indiana Jones” and “Mission: Impossible” installments.
Ballard had been considering a bid for the U.S. Senate seat from Utah, now held by Sen. Mitt Romney, before the allegations against him became public. Since then, several high-profile supporters have distanced themselves from Ballard, including Reyes and Beck, an early OUR supporter who criticized the LDS Church on social media of “effectively excommunicating” Ballard without due process; Beck later deleted the post.
OUR says it has helped to rescue 6,500 children from being sex trafficked since it was founded. But in interviews conducted as part of a fraud investigation by the FBI and Davis County Attorney’s office, former high-level employees said they could never verify the numbers, and that the organization had stopped doing rescue missions and mainly was a pass-through to law enforcement organizations and other nonprofits.
In response, OUR said it on average still conducts several rescue missions a week.