City refuses $25,000 donation from Operation Underground Railroad

Citing ‘cultural appropriation, deteriorating relationships with numerous law enforcement agencies and ongoing criminal investigations into operation into Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.)’, the City Council of Norman, Oklahoma and the Norman Police Department (NPD) unanimously refuse an O.U.R. donation worth $25,270.50. NPD and City of Norman join a growing list of law enforcement agencies and municipalities that refuse to have any association with O.U.R. and its founder, Tim Ballard. American Crime Journal obtained another copy of O.U.R.’s Mutual Agreement Document, which proves once again, that scant donations gave O.U.R. a license to masquerade as “consultants”, “partners” and “operators”, constantly posturing themselves as the driving force behind the arrest of pedophiles and the rescue of over 5,000 children. By their own admission, without any involvement or consultation- they continue to report arrests and the child rescues as their own.

Norman City Council

On October 26, Norman Police Department Deputy Chief Ricky Jackson stood before Norman City Council to deliver his final report on his investigation into Operation Underground Railroad. Citing ‘concerns of cultural appropriation, deteriorating relationships with numerous law enforcement agencies and an ongoing criminal investigation into operation into Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.)‘, he formally requested to withdraw his request for a donation worth over $25,000. This was in stark contrast to the October 12th city council meeting which he enthusiastically presented the request before council members.

Unlike the previous city council meeting which Deputy Chief Jackson seemed indifferent about Tim Ballard and O.U.R.’s reputation, he made it clear, Norman Police Department did not want any type of association with Operation Underground Railroad. Norman City Council then unanimously voted to deny O.U.R.’s donation of a Graykey Digital Forensic Extraction Tool and a one-year service license valued at $25,270.50. The device would have given the Norman City Police Department the ability to download files from Android and iOS devices, with what Deputy Chief Jackson said was “two, possibly three warrants”.

What normally is a slam dunk for Tim Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad, quickly became another embarrassing nightmare. Before the October 12, 2021, city council vote, Norman City Ward 1 Councilmember Brandi Studley had looked into O.U.R. Not only calling attention to Tim Ballard and O.U.R.’s cultural appropriation, but their deteriorating relationships with numerous law enforcement agencies.

That’s when Deputy Chief Ricky Jackson of the Norman Police Department began to look into Operation Underground Railroad’s background.

The Graykey Digital Forensic Extraction Tool

Photo courtesy of AppleInsider

More commonly known as a Mobile Device Forensic Tools (MDFTs), the Graykey Digital Forensic Extraction Tool is a device made by Grayshift, LLC. The company specializes in mobile device and digital forensics. MDFTs extracts data, including encrypted and inaccessible files from Android and iOS devices.

While a breakthrough for law enforcement, MDFTs have become the subject of controversy the past few years. With the device law enforcement can bypass security features, then extract and review files and communications with or without a warrant(depending on jurisdiction). This gives law enforcement the ability to look for phone numbers, texts, emails or voicemails to gain intelligence on drug activity, gangs, crimes and other illegal activities. It also can download, read and view encrypted files which could reveal things like child pornography. The device combats what Christopher Wray of the FBI once called “warrant-proof encryption”, which was a feature on iPhones. In some jurisdictions, the device has been used without a warrant.

How the device would be used was another serious issue debated among Norman City Councilmembers.

While Grayshift, LLC. claims their device can extract encrypted and inaccessible files from iOS devices, Apple says, “not so fast”. According to one Norman City resident who addressed city council, he contacted Apple and assured him that Grayshift’s claim that they can bypass security features and encryption in nonsense. Between frequent updates and proprietary coding, even if the device were somehow able to bypass the software and extract files, a new update would render the device obsolete.

O.U.R.’s Domestic Law Enforcement Support Mutual Agreement for the Receipt of Contributions

Operation Underground Railroad’s Domestic Law Enforcement Support Mutual Agreement for the Receipt of Contributions (MAD) with Norman Police Department is the same exact agreement that has led to dozens of law enforcement agencies to cut ties with the organization. Scant financial donations and materials such as the Graykey Digital Forensic Tool has allowed O.U.R. to masquerade as “consultants”, “partners” and “operators”, posturing themselves as the driving force behind the arrest of violent offenders and the rescue of trafficking victims- for years. It has emboldened O.U.R. to make outlandish and disproven claims, such as having rescued over 5,000 trafficking victims. In reality, they’ve had no involvement in cases, operations or individual arrests.

Last year, I interviewed two police departments which both accused O.U.R. of defrauding donors and fabricating rescues. Both departments received donations from O.U.R. in 2017, and they had not heard from them since. As of 2021, Tim Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad were counting these department’s arrests “as their own”. Even more troubling, each of these arrests O.U.R. felt at liberty to add a half dozen victims or so. One provided an article published on O.U.R.’s website claiming they netted two arrests. The article went on to say 5 children were freed due to O.U.R.’s involvement in this particular sting.

Only problem was, there were no children. Both men were busted with child pornography they were distributing online. O.U.R. took elements of a true story and manufactured a human trafficking ring.

“Every bust is a human trafficking ring. They claimed to free more children in just two municipalities last year than the entire state reported last year [2016]. It’s fiction. Law enforcement doesn’t need O.U.R.. They need law enforcement[to make money].

The Mutual Agreement Document explicitly states:

“that O.U.R. donors deserve to be be informed regarding how their donations equate to “measurables” necessary to combat child exploitation. By accepting this donation, you agree to provide O.U.R. with numbers of any individuals arrested, or victims identified with the assistance of the donation. O.U.R. does not require require any names or case identifiers, just raw numbers provided in bimonthly reports which O.U.R. will solicit

Operation Underground Railroad’s Domestic Law Enforcement Support Mutual Agreement for the Receipt of Contributions (MAD)

The ‘MAD’ also specifies “Where O.U.R.’s contributions support an operation resulting in arrests or other newsworthy activity, acknowledgement of O.U.R.’s support is requested in Associated Press releases”. It goes on to state that O.U.R.’s media rep will “coordinate with LEA’s designated media rep”.

We witnessed this first hand when O.U.R’s. “press agent” pestered and solicited Washington State Patrol for press releases via email regarding the NET Nanny stings. One thing was clear, Operation Underground Railroad’s top priority was publicity.

Every dollar they donate, generates more “sizzle”.

Norman City Council: A Tale of Two Meetings

October 12, 2021

In the Norman City Council Meeting Agenda for October 12, 2021, Kevin Foster Chief of the Norman Police Department had sent a request to Norman City Council (Item 11) to accept a donation from Operation Underground Railroad for a Graykey Digital Forensic Tool and a one-year service license that is valued at $25,270.50. When the request came up at the meeting NPD Deputy Chief Ricky Jackson stepped to the podium to enthusiastically present the request.

Before Item 10 was finished, half of the city council had questions about Item 11.

City of Norman, Ok Staff Report Item 11

At first, the councilmembers seemed concerned about the use and potential abuse of Mobile Device Forensic Tools (MDFTs).

Ward 4 Councilmember Lee Hall asked Deputy Chief Jackson if he, “intended to develop any type of protocol or procedures on limiting the use [of the device] to this particular area of crime investigation or would you be using it for other investigations that you want to do?”

Lee Hall’s question echoes those of critics of MDFTs. While the device is often sold to the public and city councils strictly as a device to fight the most serious and heinous crimes such as child exploitation, homicides or organized crime, rarely is that the case. Quite often the device is used to bust drug users and violate the probation and/or parole of non-violent offenders. It’s a tool used for retribution more often than it’s used for homicide investigations. Especially against those who refuse to cooperate with authorities.

Deputy Chief Jackson responded that the way he understood it, “as it relates to staff”, the device was to “be used for child exploitation and crimes against children”. He did relent that in the event that data extraction was needed for any other type of crime, “such as a homicide”, that they would need to specify exactly what was needed in a warrant and have a judge sign it.

Derailed once again

Ward 1 Councilmember Brandi Studley stated to Deputy Chief Jackson that when she was reading through the Mutual Agreement Document between Norman Police Department and Operation Underground Railroad, the agreement said nothing about it being used exclusively for child exploitation or human trafficking, but could be used for any type of investigation.

Contrary to the Deputy Chief’s claim that he vetted O.U.R, Studley began to unleash.

“You said you guys were approached by this company?”

She emphasized that she wanted to read some information on Operation Underground Railroad and its founder Tim Ballard.

“he came under investigation and is the subject of several investigative series that details his relationship with corrupt foreign government officials, his history of fabricating rescues and statistics, and several reports detailing accusations by law enforcement agencies both foreign and domestic accusing Ballard of fabricating and exaggerating their relationships including accusations of creating and fostering an environment of child sex trafficking and evidence detailing the O.U.R. was an ongoing criminal enterprise since its founding”

She continued…

O.U.R. is centered around black and Latino children in its fundraising work, but ignored requests by black activists to change the organization’s name. At the same time, Ballard called an Operation Underground [Railroad] painting by Utah artist Jon McNaughton, who also did a painting of Barack Obama burning the Constitution in 2012- he created a painting for this organization depicting Ballard, his wife and other white people carrying black and brown children rescued from trafficking along a literal railroad with Harriet Tubman standing to the side, in referencing along their path”

Underground Railroad by Jon McNaughton

Brandi Studley expressed what often is overlooked when discussing O.U.R. and their perpetuation of LDS Church mythology, rooted in American Exceptionalism and the white savior complex. Tim Ballard was, after all, a pseudo-historian that dabbled in LDS biblical fanfiction when he caught the eye of M. Russell Ballard and conservative commentator Glenn Beck. This is coming from a man, religion, organization, state and culture that is over 99% white and living an upper middle class collective existence. Tim Ballard is clueless of just how offensive cultural appropriation is and worse, his exploitation of black and brown children. Even to the disgust of academics activists, and even other Mormons, Tim Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad still compares themselves to the abolitionists that advocated against slavery throughout U.S. history.

According to History

The Underground Railroad was a network of people, many of them former slaves, offering shelter at a series of safe points that escaped slaves from the South used to travel toward the free states and Canada. It grew steadily from several clandestine efforts that converged from the late 18th century until the Civil War.

There is nothing “underground” about O.U.R. and they’re not abolitionists. They lack diversity and integrity. In fact, they are quite the opposite. Equating human trafficking to chattel slavery here in the United States is grotesque enough of an analogy. Dozens of other anti-human trafficking organizations stopped equating the two. The National Survivor Network acknowledges, however, “slavery and trafficking are two different experiences that may correlate and have similar structural concepts but are not the same.”

Another fine example of this is the mass hysteria over “Critical Race Theory”, which is not taught in schools. Instead it’s being used as a guise to institute white nationalism. Republicans want to whitewash a history that has not only been whitewashed, but romanticized and celebrated for about 150 years.

It is offensive.

Studley would conclude with an article critical of O.U.R. by Anne Gallagher, who is the nations leading expert on human trafficking; “which is this company that approached you guys, she said that their raids show an alarming lack of understanding about how sophisticated criminal trafficking networks must be approached and dismantled and called their operations ‘arrogant, unethical, and illegal’, so I just want to make sure that we all understand who we are getting in bed with here. And if there is software that is available, for this type of uncovering device, if you have a warrant from a judge, I’m sure there are other companies that would be willing to help you that we could work with.

But I’m not comfortable getting in bed with this company at all. And I don’t think you guys as a police department should want to get in bed with someone like this either”

Deputy Chief Jackson stated that he’d, “definitely look into that and see, drill further into their background and their history”

The only problem was, Deputy Chief Jackson already claimed he did a background check on Operation Underground Railroad. Despite the dozen or so headlines from major news agencies in O.U.R.’s home state of Utah, it didn’t raise any red flags.

He explains, “From our standpoint, as law enforcement, we look at it as a tool to help us further these types of investigations. Their utilization of it on the side, you know, I’d like to know that, but if we’re able to utilize that to save children, we’re gonna do that. But what he does on the side and what this company is to alleged to have been doing, I have no control over that part of it”.

Studley and the Deputy Chief would go back and forth for another minute or two, which at one point he appears to finally digest what she is saying. She requested that city council postpone the vote so that Deputy Chief Jackson could investigate Operation Underground Railroad further and present his findings regarding the organization at a later date.

A vote on O.U.R.’s donation was postponed until October 26, 2021, to give NPD time to investigate Operation Underground Railroad.

October 12, 2021, Norman City Council Meeting- Norman City Police Requests Donation from O.U.R. worth over $25,000

October 26, 2021

At the October 26, 2021, meeting- Norman Police Department Deputy Chief Ricky Jackson stated that he “appreciated Studley brought this before council”. He then asked that City Council vote no and refuse Operation Underground Railroad’s donation.

Jackson went on to tell the Norman City Council, “I could not completely feel comfortable going forward with this organization knowing that there are some concerns out there that could be true”.

Elizabeth Foreman Ward 6 councilmember asked Jackson if NPD could find similar software through another organization? Jackson said that NPD could obtain software that was not developed or associated by O.U.R.

Ward 4 Councilmember Lee Hall asked if the estimated $25,000 covered the entire cost of the software and its licensing.

Jackson said it would have.

Councilmember Hall thanked Deputy Chief Jackson for using his resources to investigate O.U.R.

“What was so disastrous” about Operation Underground Railroad that he “would not want to accept this tool?”, asked Ward 5 Councilmember Rarchar Tortorello.

Deputy Chief Jackson explained that his “constituents across the country had several concerns” about the organization. In addition to Studley’s evidence, “that was enough” for him to deny this offer from Operation Underground Railroad.

Norman City Council then unanimously denied O.U.R.’s donation.

October 26, 2021, Norman City Council Meeting- Norman Police Department and City Council REFUSE O.U.R. Donation

Norman PD and City Council made the dignified choice

In a day where city budgets are razor thin and raising taxes is a sin, Norman City Council made a clear, concise choice. No matter how difficult it may have been. They could have used one of the dozens of excuses I’ve heard as to why they “had” to do business with O.U.R.. Instead, the culturally appropriated name alone was a red flag. I will be addressing that in a follow up to this article. Then, as it seems as usual now, their police department launched an investigation into O.U.R.. Of course, the obvious choice is not to do business with Tim Ballard, who’s now a thoroughly professed rightwing radical. A man with questionable ties to white nationalists and the very same fringe radicals behind “The Big Lie”. A fringe pseudo-historian and LDS fundamentalist (and for you good LDS folks reading, I don’t mean FLDS). An obvious con-artist turned rightwing grifter.

Had Norman City Councilmember Brandi Studley not saw the name of this organization on the upcoming agenda and took offense, then not researched the organization? I don’t know if the investigation would have been launched.

Let’s say this meeting occurred just one year ago? I’m sure Studley’s objections would have been considered, but they ultimately would have fallen victim to an organization that has done everything in their power to silence, intimated and harass critics into a Nondisclosure Agreement or silence.

What if the victims, former volunteers, employees and organizations that have been preyed upon, exploited and abused never came forward? Tim Ballard and O.U.R. would be still be what they first told Lynn Packer and I, “invincible”.

O.U.R.’s façade is crumbling and Tim Ballard has been exposed, just like his friend and protégé, Jim Caviezel.

Operation Underground Railroad, Exposed

Since the revelation of multiple criminal investigations into Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad, their reputation has rapidly diminished. Then Vice News exposed O.U.R.’s so called “partnerships” with law enforcement agencies. As we suspected and reported, they and the occasional K-9 to police departments. That would be the extent of the relationship- if even that. Except O.U.R. would continue to claim direct involvement in major stings and arrests by those departments. Just a scant donation gave O.U.R. a lifetime allowance to perpetuate in-depth involvement, such as training and consultation to agencies. Their credibility rapidly eroded. By simply fear-mongering human sex trafficking in the United States with fantastic unverifiable numbers, gave him all the justification needed to pillage, exploit, rape and torture black and brown people in third world countries for profit. A disgusting posturing attempt by Ballard to buy his way onto LDS leadership.

Several months ago, Ballard’s sister-in-law and O.U.R.’s longtime Chief Financial Officer Tevya Ware resigned. Without hesitation, she formed her own anti-human trafficking organization, Coaxion Global with Jon Lines, O.U.R.’s former President of Operations. They were joined by retired detective Carlos Rodriguez former head of Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children Task Force (MECTF). Rodriguez also did a short stint at O.U.R. until he and Ballard had a falling out.

It was a similar concern echoed by Chris Loftis of the Washington State Patrol. He told Vice News last December, “candidly, in an organization of our size and a total multi-year budget well into the billions, it is not significantly budget impacting. We are quite comfortable with our decision to forgo any further donations from them and avoid further association with an organization that might provide distraction from the core mission.” 

O.U.R.’s claim to fame was its association with MECTF and their controversial NetNanny stings. Rodriguez was head of MECTF when beginning in 2015, O.U.R. began donating funds to directly to support the task force. Between 2015 and 2020, O.U.R. had given a total of $185,522 to support the task force’s operations. Despite Tim Ballard peddling NetNanny as an O.U.R. driven vehicle, the total sum of their donations was over a six year period. To shed some light on what was O.U.R.’s featured project and claim to fame, even if O.U.R. donated $200,000 a year now, that’s less than a fraction of a percent of their annual income in any given year.

In reality, O.U.R. donated on average $31,000 a year to Washington State Patrol for marketing. Except O.U.R. received so much more. In contrast, they donated $2.5 million to Rudy Atallah’s nonprofit White Mountain Research in 2019 alone. Atallah just so happens to be employed by The Nazarene Fund in its latest iteration.

After the loss of Jon Lines, Tim Ballard scrambled to regain these so-called “partnerships” with domestic law enforcement agencies. A desperate and shameful attempt to obtain credibility and give the appearance of legitimacy to an illegitimate scheme once again.

Alternative Realities. Alternative Facts.

What is telling, is how Ballard intends to compensate for the losses. The loss of Paul Hutchinson. The loss of Tevya Ware and Jon Lines. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes keeping distant. The scandals and revelations by some of his closest allies. Criminal investigation after criminal investigation.

So, as any scam artist and grifter would do during desperate times, they go to an alternate reality and live by alternative facts. Tim Ballard has fully embraced Trumpism and has questionable associations with radical right wing political figures. He especially has close ties to the leaders peddling “The Big Lie” and those embracing white nationalism. Ballard has spent the last few months palling around with traitors and terrorists like L. Lin Wood, Mike Lindell and convicted felon and traitor Michael Flynn. Ballard who once distanced himself from QAnon(barely) and their human trafficking fantasies and delusions, now fully embraces it. He is now associating with key QAnon figures and began perpetuating debunked conspiracies such as adrenochroming to his inner circle. To make matters worse, when Ballard and conservative commenter Glenn Beck restarted The Nazarene Fund scheme, they enlisted David Barton. An evangelist minister and pseudo-historian, Barton is a bigot, a radical rightwing extremist who is on Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) HATEWATCH.

Even though O.U.R. rakes in tens-of-millions of dollars per year now, Ballard has some serious commitments. He tithes donor money to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Similarly, he made a commitment to M. Russell Ballard (no relation) acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, to find Mardy Gardy.

“These schemes by Ballard has never been about human trafficking or Christians in Afghanistan. Tim believes he is a prophet and seeking to get a spot in LDS leadership. It has been part of some revelation he had years ago”.

Since Jon Lines departure and O.U.R.’s shift to radical rightwing politics, most law enforcement agencies have cut what little ties they had with Operation Underground Railroad. O.U.R. and Ballard are under multiple criminal investigations and have remained totally silent on the issue.

When it comes down to it, Ballard believes there is more money in rightwing grifting and conspiracies.

UPDATED

11.12.21- Added Norman City Council videos regarding O.U.R. discussions (know as item 11) during city council meetings on 10.12.21 and 10.26.21

Resources and Further Reading

https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/2/24/21133600/police-fbi-phone-search-protests-password-rights

https://www.vice.com/en/article/k7a3qw/a-famed-anti-sex-trafficking-group-has-a-problem-with-the-truth

https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/david-barton

https://www.vice.com/en/article/k7a3qw/a-famed-anti-sex-trafficking-group-has-a-problem-with-the-truth

https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/2/24/21133600/police-fbi-phone-search-protests-password-rights

https://www.lawfareblog.com/law-enforcement-accessing-locked-devices-quite-well-thank-you

https://mccmeetings.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/normanok-pubu/MEET-Packet-fdde3d56f72a426b9e137b689b2eac2c.pdf

https://mccmeetings.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/normanok-pubu/MEET-Agenda-4b3e496223d84c1289e2e9eb48340ba2.pdf



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