Utah A.G. Sean Reyes and Tim Ballard: A timeline of their decadelong relationship

The GOP officeholder’s ties with the founder of Operation Underground Railroad have led legislators to consider how the state’s top law enforcement officer is chosen.

The decadelong relationship between Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and anti-child-trafficking advocate Tim Ballard is under scrutiny as the accusations of sexual misconduct and questionable business practices stack up against the embattled founder of Operation Underground Railroad.

There is no question the two men were close: They praised each other in public appearances; Reyes participated in an OUR operation; and the attorney general received a producer credit in the film “Sound of Freedom,” a movie loosely based off Ballard’s origin story.

Recently, attorneys for seven plaintiffs suing Ballard say the men’s friendship lent credibility to Ballard and OUR, while also aiding in fundraising. Utah lawmakers have suggested that an audit of financial and personal support might be in order.

The Salt Lake Tribune — using public records, news reports and a trove of social media posts — has assembled, and will continue to update, a timeline that shows the evolution of the relationship between Reyes and Ballard.


Sept. 6, 2013 • Operation Underground Railroad is incorporated in Utah. Ballard’s sister, brother-in-law and two other men are listed on the incorporation documents.

December 2013 • Ballard, who had been a Homeland Security agent working with the attorney general’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, leaves his government job to lead OUR. In Ballard’s July 2023 podcast, Reyes says Ballard stopped working with the attorney general’s office to start OUR. “So we heard about you, I’m running the task force now because I come in [at the] end of ‘13, start of ‘14, and I’m like, ‘Who is this guy I keep hearing like he’s some sort of Superman that now is going undercover’ and I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve got to be a part of this.’”

Dec. 30, 2013 • Reyes is sworn in as attorney general, replacing John Swallow, who resigned amid a scandal.

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sean Reyes is sworn in as attorney general by Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant at the Utah Capitol rotunda in Salt Lake City Monday, Dec. 30, 2013.


Feb. 11, 2014 • The attorney general’s SECURE Strike Force, which targets illegal immigration and human trafficking, arrests Victor Rax for human trafficking. Reyes said in later congressional testimony that it was during the Rax investigation that he first heard of Ballard and OUR.

April 2014 • Rax dies in custody from suicide.

Aug. 22, 2014 • Reyes poses for photos with Ballard at Lehi’s Thanksgiving Point and posts on Facebook that he “definitely will be collaborating and supporting (OUR’s) extraction missions.”

October 2014 • Reyes participates in OUR rescue mission to Colombia.


Jan. 5, 2015 • Reyes wins election in November 2014 and is sworn in a second time.

Jan. 26, 2015 • Reyes and Ballard attend a Sundance screening of the movie “The Abolitionists” along with Ed Smart, the father of Elizabeth Smart, and other OUR supporters.

Jan 28, 2015 • OUR movie “The Abolitionists” is released. Reyes attends the premiere.

Feb. 3, 2015 • Reyes speaks to a group of Rotarians, tells of his participation in the Colombia sting and promotes OUR.

May 14, 2015 • Reyes and Ballard each testify before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee about sex trafficking.

Aug. 24, 2015 • Reyes hosts representatives from around the world to discuss how to combat human trafficking.

Oct. 7, 2015 • Reyes and Ballard keynote the Women of the Mountains Conference at Orem’s Utah Valley University on “Human Trafficking In Utah and Beyond.”

Oct. 30, 2015 • Ballard and Reyes are guest speakers at the World Congress of Families IX at Salt Lake City’s Grand America Hotel. Reyes says he is on OUR’s advisory board. Reyes says 25 million to 40 million people, conservatively, are trafficked and more people are in slavery now than during the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade. Ballard frequently cites these same figures. M. Russell Ballard, a senior apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also speaks at the conference.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle M. Russell Ballard speaks at the World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City, Oct. 27, 2015.

Dec. 14, 2015 • Reyes posts photos of a workout at the OUR gym in Draper.


Jan. 31 2016 • News reports say that Reyes attended Sundance Film Festival in civilian clothes, supposedly to try to uncover sex trafficking. No trafficking was found.

March 31, 2016 • Reyes records promotional video for OUR and the movie “The Abolitionists.”

May 13, 2016Reyes speaks at a Utah Trucking Association event about OUR and “Human Trafficking & The Trucking Industry.

June 2, 2016 • Reyes and then-Utah Gov. Gary Herbert hold a Capitol news conference with Ballard to promote the documentary “The Abolitionists.”

July 13, 2016 • Reyes holds a news conference to announce human-trafficking and child-exploitation arrests as part of Operation Broken Heart III, which resulted in 71 arrests in Utah.

July 27, 2016 • Reyes posts an image of him at the Ogden Pioneer Day Parade, where he rode with the Operation Underground Railroad entry.

Nov. 5, 2016 • Reyes attends the OUR fundraising gala. Reyes says he plans to continue working with OUR as long as he is in office.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attorney General Sean Reyes at Operation Underground Railroad's "Share Our Light" gala in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Reyes was honored for his contribution to anti-trafficking.

December 2016 • Tribune reports about a child pornography investigation scuttled because Reyes was allegedly taking photos on his cellphone. The investigation began in September 2014 and was dropped in 2015.

Dec. 1, 2016 • Reyes gives a TEDxUSU Talk on trafficking, saying 21 million to 46 million people are in slavery and that it is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise.


Sometime in 2017 • The attorney general’s ICAC Task Force receives a $250,000 grant from OUR in the first of several grants over the following years.

February 2017 • Reyes stages a news conference touting progress on human trafficking, saying officers had arrested 16 people since Jan 1, according to a news report.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attorney General Sean Reyes, April 26, 2017.

Sept. 28, 2017 • OUR posts a blog (that it later deleted) asserting that the support OUR provided to ICAC led to the arrest of seven individuals for sexual exploitation of children involving the internet. It also reports that 97 child sexual exploitation investigations were initiated, 102 more CyberTipline referrals were able to be investigated, four more ICAC law enforcement trainings were provided, and seven additional ICAC officers were sent to training.

Nov. 4, 2017 • Reyes attends an OUR gala, along with Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. The event brought in $629,903 in donations.

Nov. 18, 2017 • Actor Chuck Norris headlines a fundraising event for Glenn Beck’s Nazarene Fund that Ballard and Reyes attend.

Nov. 23, 2017 • In his Thanksgiving message posted on the attorney general’s website, Reyes references Ballard, saying, “Similarly, Tim Ballard, Operation Underground Railroad, and other modern-day abolitionists risk their lives to save innocent children from sex trafficking worldwide.”


Sometime in 2018 • The attorney general’s ICAC Task Force receives another $224,793 grant from OUR, boosting the total to $474,793.

Jan. 15, 2018 • Reyes guest hosts KSL’s “Doug Wright Show,” where he has Tim and Katherine Ballard on and promotes OUR and their recent operation in Haiti. “Tim Ballard is a modern-day hero in the spirit of Martin Luther King,” Reyes says, adding that OUR has eradicated child trafficking in Cartagena, Bogota and Cali, Colombia, in a year’s time. Ballard returns the praise. “Sean’s shoulder to shoulder with me,” Ballard says of a raid. “... Sean is one of my best friends on the planet and he cries with these kids, he’s with me, he’s with my team, and we are rescuing children.”

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attorney General Sean Reyes speaks to students during an event hosted by the Utah College Republicans in the State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Thursday Feb. 8, 2018.

May 31, 2018 • Ballard speaks about OUR work at the Fourth Annual Law Day Symposium hosted by Reyes.

July 13, 2018 • Reyes attends a prescreening of “Operation Toussaint,” a film about an OUR mission to Haiti, in which Reyes appears briefly. Ballard and Reyes address the audience.

Aug. 4, 2018 • Ballard and Reyes are co-presenters at the National Federation of Republican Women conference at Salt Lake City’s Little America.

Aug. 30, 2018 • Brigham Young University football coach Kalani Sitake hosts Ballard and Reyes at a football practice.

Dec. 2, 2018 • Reyes attends a fundraising gala for Children Need Families and OUR. The event collects $483,230 in donations.

Dec. 16, 2018 • Reyes, Ballard and other OUR employees meet with Tomlin, coach of the Steelers, in Pittsburgh.


Sometime in 2019 • The ICAC Task Force receives another $250,000 grant from OUR. The total then stood at $724,793.

Jan. 24, 2019 • Reyes and Herbert participate in an awards ceremony honoring martial arts movie actor Jackie Chan, as well as Ballard and OUR’s Paul Hutchinson.

Feb. 1, 2019 • Ballard meets with President Donald Trump at the White House to discuss border security.

(Sarah Silbiger | The New York Times) Timothy Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, talks with President Donald Trump during a meeting about human trafficking on the souther border of the U.S., in the Cabinet Room of the White House, in Washington, Feb. 1, 2019.

July 9, 2019 • OUR posts a blog item (since deleted) touting that “Our support of Utah ICAC has led to 10 arrests, 24 rescues and 55 initiated investigations from January — April 2019 alone.”

Oct. 29, 2019 • Ballard is appointed to the White House’s Public-Private Partnership Advisory Council to End Human Trafficking.


Sometime in 2020 • The ICAC Task Force receives an $83,000 grant from OUR, bringing the total to $807,793. In later responses to questions from The Tribune, the attorney general’s office said OUR and the Malouf Foundation kicked in a total of $950,000 to the task force.

Jan. 11, 2020 • In a news release about Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the attorney general’s office thanks OUR for being a “partner” in its efforts.

Jan. 29, 2020 • Reyes speaks in Washington on trafficking in the transportation industry. Gives credit foremost to Trump.

Jan. 31, 2020 • Ballard and Reyes speak on human trafficking at the Silicon Slopes Summit.

April 20, 2020 • Jon Lines, OUR’s president of operations, emails Ballard recommending edits to footage of the 2014 Colombia mission. He say the group needs to remove Reyes’ campaign consultant Alan Crooks and that “Sean Reyes sure gets a lot of screen time for only showing up to play body guard for a day. I’d suggest shortening some of his diatribes throughout. Once again, for the past few years I’ve warded off many complaints about Sean’s involvement with us. This film will spark new flame with his many detractors for sure.”

June 29, 2020 • Ballard posts on social media that he is formally endorsing Reyes for reelection ahead of the Republican primary.

July 30, 2020 • Reyes and Ballard attend the OUR “Rise Up” event together.

Aug. 1, 2020 • Ballard posts an image on social media of him and Reyes praying about an operation organized by The Nazarene Fund.

Aug. 27, 2020 • Reyes speaks at the Republican National Convention, where he recounts an OUR mission and calls Trump a “warrior against human trafficking”

(Susan Walsh | AP) Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes walks on stage to tape his speech for the fourth day of the Republican National Convention from the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020.

Oct. 6, 2020 • Ballard and Reyes meet with Trump National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.

Oct. 7, 2020 • FOX 13 reports that Davis County is conducting an investigation into OUR and Ballard.

Oct. 12, 2020 • According to documents obtained through a public records request, OUR Operations Director Dave Lopez is interviewed by Davis County attorney’s office investigator Brad Purdy. Lopez says OUR is not doing operations anymore and says if OUR was asked how many rescues the group was physically participating in, “it would be a staggering answer. … If people knew that they actually weren’t the ones doing the operations, they would feel incredibly deceived.” The investigator writes that Lopez “knows Sean Reyes, the Utah attorney general, very well personally and believes he is aware of what OUR has been doing. Dave believes that if this investigations (sic) moves forward, he believes Reyes will begin to distance himself from OUR.”

Dec. 23, 2020 • A screening memo is put in place intended to prevent Reyes and Chief of Staff Ric Cantrell from having any involvement in the Davis County investigation, which includes the FBI, into OUR and Ballard, according to documents received through an open records request.


Jan. 4, 2021 • After winning reelection in November, Reyes is sworn in for a third time.

Sept. 8, 2021 • SECURE Strike Force and other police departments bust six massage parlors. The attorney general’s office says it saved human trafficking victims and led to the arrests of three people.

Oct. 24, 2021 • In a story by The Utah Investigative Journalism Project, spokesperson Rich Piatt says that the attorney general’s office stopped taking OUR money when it learned that OUR was under investigation.


July 29, 2022 • Reyes and Ballard share an Instagram video promoting an upcoming concert for trafficking awareness.

Nov. 25, 2022 • Reyes attends a World Cup soccer match paid for by the government of Qatar, the host nation. He explained the junket was part of consulting he had done with the nation about how to combat trafficking.

Dec. 22, 2022 • Documents show that Davis County investigator Craig Webb emailed two employees in the attorney general’s office asking for an accounting that would reflect if Davis County got OUR money or Department of Justice money as part of its ICAC grant request.


Jan. 13, 2023 • Ballard speaks about trafficking at the Attorney General Alliance Anti-Trafficking Summit in Park City, which Reyes hosted.

Feb. 9, 2023 • Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings emails Spencer Austin, head of the attorney general’s office criminal division, and includes the 75 pages of documents and numerous attachments that are later released by the attorney general’s office in a public records request. Rawlings says he has 10,000 pages of psychic readings by Janet Russon, who was paid by OUR to provide intelligence on operations. He says there is a hearing set for May 3-4 and anticipates testimony will be sought from Austin, Reyes and another employee of the office.

March 28, 2023 • Rawlings emails Spencer Austin — and copies in Reyes — stating he will no longer be subpoenaing employees and former employees from the attorney general’s office to testify in the May hearing but still would like information requested by Craig Webb on Dec. 22, 2022, about how OUR’s donations were spent. The same day, Rawlings notifies OUR he is closing the investigation.

June 26, 2023 • Reyes attends the premiere of “Sound of Freedom” with Ballard. On his social media bio, Reyes lists himself as an associate producer on the film.

(Alberto E. Tamargo | Sipa USA via AP) Tim Ballard is seen during the premiere of "Sound of Freedom" movie premier on June 23, 2022 in Miami Beach, Fla.

July 4, 2023 • “Sound of Freedom” is released nationwide. To date, it has made more than $217 million.

July 12, 2023 • Reyes goes on the Christian Broadcasting Network, praising “Sound of Freedom” and says, “Tim Ballard is a hero — no other way to characterize him.

July 13, 2023 • VICE News first reports that Ballard has left OUR. It appears he left the organization in June.

July 20, 2023 • Reyes is the first guest on Ballard’s short-lived podcast. Ballard plugs Reyes’ LAVA Foundation — which Reyes says is intended to fight trafficking — and support for “Sound of Freedom.” Reyes compares Ballard to the great abolitionists in history. Ballard says Reyes provided indispensable support by vouching for OUR’s credibility.

July 28, 2023 • In an interview with The Tribune, Ballard denies he left OUR because of misconduct allegations and that his departure had been planned for months. OUR later disputes that narrative. He makes similar assertions in a piece for The Daily Wire.

Sept. 13, 2023 • Reyes posts on X that he won’t run for Utah’s U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Mitt Romney and teases a potential Ballard campaign, saying, “a dear friend of mine who is a great conservative, patriot, and warrior” will be making an announcement in the days to come.

Sept. 13, 2023 • Ballard testifies before the House Homeland Security Committee on border security and human trafficking.

Sept. 15, 2023 • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issues a scathing rebuke of Ballard that is published as a statement to VICE News, denouncing his “morally unacceptable” activity and accusing him of exploiting his friendship with senior apostle M. Russell Ballard in support of OUR and Tim’s private business efforts. The two Ballards are not related.

Sept. 19, 2023 • Ballard denies allegations of sexual misconduct. “As with all of the assaults on my character and integrity over many years, the latest tabloid-driven sexual allegations are false. They are baseless inventions designed to destroy me and the movement we have built to end the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable children,”

Sept. 25, 2023 • Ballard posts a video explaining the “couples ruse,” where he would pose as a partner of a female operative on a rescue mission. The ruse is at the heart of the abuse allegations against Ballard.

Sept. 28, 2023 • Attorney Suzette Rasmussen holds a news conference in which she reads a statement from her clients that the allegations against Ballard are true.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attorney Suzette Rasmussen, representing former employees and contractors of Operation Underground Railroad, makes a statement affirming the claims by her clients of alleged sexual misconduct by Tim Ballard, the anti-human trafficking activist who is considering a run for the U.S. Senate, at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023.

Sept. 29, 2023 • Reyes responds to questions from The Tribune about his relationship with Ballard. In it, Reyes acknowledges that he was aware of meetings, phone calls and at least one screening of “Sound of Freedom” attended by Latter-day Saint apostle Ballard. Reyes said he was aware OUR used Russon, the psychic, to generate information but did not personally witness it. He said psychics can produce useful evidence for law enforcement. But he had no reason not to promote OUR, Tim Ballard and “Sound of Freedom” because Davis County and the Department of Justice did not file charges.

Sept. 29, 2023 • Reyes posts a statement on his campaign website saying he is “shocked and deeply saddened by these allegations” against Ballard.

Oct. 4, 2023 • Beck, the radio host, says he believes he was “duped” by Ballard after speaking to some of the women accusing Ballard of misconduct.

Oct. 9, 2023 • Five women sue Ballard accusing him of sexual assault. The lawsuit alleges that Reyes’ close ties to Ballard and OUR provided assurances to donors that the nonprofit was credible.

Oct. 10, 2023 • When pressed for a reaction to the lawsuit at a news conference, Reyes says allegations against Ballard “ought to be taken seriously.”

Oct. 11, 2023 • State Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, suggests that, on the heels of the Ballard allegations and his ties to Reyes, the Utah attorney general should be appointed rather than elected and questions Reyes’ commitment to the job. Other lawmakers are exploring potential audits into OUR’s donations to the attorney general’s office and Reyes’ ties to Ballard.

Oct. 11, 2023 • The Ballard family issues a statement downplaying the involvement of his accusers in OUR operations and accuses cartels and individuals with evil intent of trying to destroy his work.

Oct. 11, 2023 • A second lawsuit is filed accusing Ballard of sexual misconduct, this one by a husband and wife. It also alleges that Reyes’ relationship with Ballard provided legitimacy OUR.

— This story and timeline will be updated.

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