Editor’s Note August 9, 2020: This article is now an ACJ Investigates series. For additional articles covering OUR, please go to ACJ Investigates- Derailed: Operation Underground Railroad
Anti-Human Trafficking organization Operation Underground Railroad claims to have personally rescued over 5,000 women and children from sex traffickers. In March 2019, ACJ began investigating an incident involving OUR who briefly entered the Karlie Guse case. When OUR learned we began questioning their operations and finances, they hired the law firm Kirton McConkie, the LDS Church’s legal alter ego who shields them from sex abuse claims to serve a Cease & Desist fearing the article’s release
As I was working the story, others involved in ACJ’s research were appalled that this so-called “anti-human child sex trafficking organization” would hire the law firm Kirton McConkie, given their history of protecting the LDS Church and child sex abusers within the church. I must admit, I was warned by a very popular journalist ahead of time. Looking into any organization with ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints might be suicide. Since their inception, despite only having about 15 million members and misleading their own members about their wealth, the LDS Church has amassed a $100 Billion fortune.
The law firm Kirton McConkie, was founded by members of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints and is located just blocks away, practically sitting in the shadow of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. The LDS Church is Kirton McConkie’s largest client and not only serves as its policy adviser and advocate- it also serves as the LDS Church’s legal “sword and shield” in all legal matters, including child sex abuse cases.
That’s why two weeks ago when I received a call from our admin regarding an email received in both my ACJ account and personal account, I was infuriated. Mind you, this wasn’t our first cease and desist, I didn’t care about that. Truth is an absolute defense to defamation claims and we have reason to believe our reporting is accurate, there is little recourse anyone has, other than to attempt SLAPP lawsuits. Problem is, it drains their funds quickly, and risk getting themselves put on the stand and opens them up to discovery.
The audacity of this so-called anti-human trafficking organization. They masquerade in public as this brute force that liberates women and children from the clutches of “human sex trafficking”, yet turn around and hires a law firm with not just the reputation of protecting the LDS Church from sex abuse claims, but the perpetrators. It gets worse than that. As the laws changed that required clergy and these nonprofit religious institutions to report sex abuse claims, the LDS Church snubbed their nose at the law and the victims. Instead, their law firm, Kirton McConkie helped set up a hotline for the Bishops to call, in a “catch and kill” scheme so business could go on as unusual.
How can any organization, any legitimate one for that matter, claim they are rescuing women and children overseas from “sex traffickers”, yet hire Kirton McConkie. In a Vice article, a lawyer who specializes in litigation in sex abuse claims even joked about renaming his firm “Pedophiles R’ Us” for going up against firms like Kirton McConkie and their clients.
Here is the Cease & Desist American Crime Journal, Travis Moore and I were “served”:
Kirton McConkie’s Cease and Desist reads as follows:
RE: CEASE AND DESIST notice related to upcoming American Crime Journal article(s) IMMEDIATE ATTENTION AND COMPLIANCE REQUIRED
Dear Messrs. Moore and Moore, et al.:
Our client, Operation Underground Railroad, Inc. (hereinafter “OUR”), hereby demands that you cease and desist publishing any false or misleading statements regarding OUR, its sponsors, partners, or affiliates. Failure comply with the demands set forth herein will result in imminent civil litigation against you.
We understand that Mr. Damion Moore, together with Mr. Travis Moore, founded a blog on or around April 20, 2018, entitled “American Crime Journal” (hereinafter “ACJ”), located at http://www.mytruecrime.com, and further advertised on social media platforms, such as Instagram (@americancrimejournal), Twitter (@my_true_crime), Facebook (@AmericanCrimeJournal), and YouTube, to name a few. While such data is not available to us, this “journal”—as declared publicly by Mr. Travis Moore—has reached hundreds of thousands of individuals.
At present, it appears ACJ has mentioned or otherwise discussed OUR in no less than three separate articles, beginning in early June 2019, which articles have been publicly “shared” by approximately 317 different individuals.1 There have been numerous other statements made by one, or both, of you on various social media websites. In one article, Mr. Travis Moore states ACJ will be “going into much greater detail regarding OUR and their involvement, or lack thereof, in future articles.”2 As a precursor to these upcoming “articles,” ACJ published an image on its Facebook page on January 25, 2020, which depicts OUR and its President of Operations, Jonathan Lines, as well as the Berger-North Foundation and Ingrid Tanner, under the word “Scandal.”
As you know, OUR is a non-profit which assists in combating human trafficking worldwide. To date, OUR has had the privilege of working alongside law enforcement in 25 States, providing digital forensics technology, intelligence sharing, and special investigative tools to prevent trafficking. OUR has also aided in the capture and prosecution of offenders worldwide. Even more, OUR has provided aftercare assistance to more than 5,000 survivors of trafficking through vocational training, scholarships, childcare, and other crucial services. More than 3,000 individuals have been rescued from trafficking based on OUR’s efforts, and these numbers continue to grow. Crucial to these operations are the partnerships and charitable organizations which aid OUR in its mission to eradicate human trafficking.
It is clear you are now unlawfully attempting to undermine these efforts. And if the past is any indicator, it is apparent ACJ and its writers lack any reasonable discretion. By manufacturing a tabloidlevel image which erroneously implies that OUR and its affiliates/representatives have engaged in any level of conduct which would rise to a “scandal,” we immediately presume you intend to unlawfully and unjustifiably defame OUR, and by implication, its representatives, partners, and affiliates.
Should ACJ elect to continue to brew its fabricated drama to profit off of the tragic disappearance of Karlie Gusé, that remains its prerogative. But to imply that OUR has misused, or misuses, non-contingent charitable donations from its volunteers, partners, or affiliates is patently false and will be met with aggressive legal action to the fullest extent of the law.Peter C. Schofield, Kirton McConkie
American Crime Journal’s Response
We sent a reply to Kirton McConkie so they can take it back to their client and share the news:
Our Response Reads as Follows:
Dear Mr. Peter C. Schofield,
I received your letter dated January 31, 2020 via email in which stated your client “demands that we cease and desist publishing any false or misleading statements regarding OUR, its sponsors, partners, or affiliates” or “will be met with aggressive legal action to the fullest extent of the law.”
Be careful now, be very careful sir. You’re not only at risk of embarrassing yourself and Kirton McConkie further, but your client Operation Underground Railroad and much worse Mr. Jon Lines. This strange cult like devotion and astounding credulity surrounding your client has not only left your demand letter completely absent and devoid of known facts, but all rationality.
Should OUR choose to take any such course of action, then I look forward to taking discovery of your clients’ and having them deposed under oath. We feel it is our duty to inform you here and now, that your legal threat and any subsequent, “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” (SLAPP) that may be brought against American Crime Journal (ACJ), Travis Moore or myself, is against the law in all relevant states (proper venues with legal authority) concerning all parties, and will be treated as such.
As you know, American Crime Journal strives for excellence. Despite our size, we take great pride and care in our accuracy, ethics, integrity and standards when it comes to our opinions, investigations and reporting. ACJ maintains rigorous standards and proper diligence. All statements, allegations, evidence, information, whatever it may be- prior to publication must meet certain standards & criteria before it is put forth to the public. Our core values require us, any contributor or writer to strive first and foremost, for a “better informed public”, mostly regarding issues relating to crime, the criminal justice system and any and all forms of injustices.
We believe the witnesses, and their statements are corroborated by material evidence. The evidence is damning Mr. Schofield. Your client refuses to address these valid allegations. Despite multiple attempts to get at least some context or perspective from OUR and/or Mr. Lines regarding his conduct and certain donations, your clients just ignore it and lawyer up. Your client(s), who are public figures and according to their own records received over 99% of their funds from “public funding”, leave us no other choice but to report what we’ve been given, described and uncovered without their input. This isn’t going away Mr. Schofield. If not ACJ, it will be other media, perhaps one with a larger audience.
Perhaps you will release a statement on your client’s behalf regarding allegations of his misconduct since we have your attention? We’ll be more than happy to publish it along with any article that we may “publish”. Mr. Jon Lines and Operation Underground Railroad continues to hide behind lawyers even when the public they pander and solicit donations from ask honest simple questions or have legitimate complaints, with page after page of unwarranted, aggressive, suggestive and improper materials sent by OUR’s President of Operations, Mr. Lines and a donor.
The conduct and behavior of OUR’s President of Operations Jonathan Lines, while in the field supposedly looking for Karlie Guse, was described by multiple witnesses as “misogynistic”, “hostile”, “incompetent“ and “relentlessly engaged in bullying and harassing behavior”. Despite his so called experience in such matters he, “engaged in rumors, conspiracy theories, gossip and made unsubstantiated claims”, like a high school boy. The manner in which he conducted himself both in person, on the phone and in text messages is cause for grave concern. So much concern, that witnesses contacted OUR and the board of OUR.
Their response was to hire Callister, Broberg & Becker who, in a letter dated January 29, 2019, admitted to receiving “several complaints by individuals against Mr. Lines”. Without an investigation by OUR, the firm or an independent third party, the witnesses were never questioned, the material evidence was not reviewed nor did OUR reach out to try and remedy the situation, apologize or explain themselves. Instead, they hid behind a law firm and simply cleared him of wrongdoing.
To think this is the manner which Operation Underground Railroad and Mr. Jon Lines operates in foreign nations where human rights and women’s rights are virtually non-existant, especially handling sex abuses victims, trafficked women and children, the frail, weak and poor; victims who statistically are five-to-seven times more likely to be exploited and abused again- is chilling.
In June and July of 2019, we reached out to Mr. Lines and OUR, we were completely blown off as irrelevant, which after all, we are just some pesky blog outside of Chicago.
If Jon Lines and Operation Underground Railroad can’t handle ‘tough’ legitimate questions and criticism (and there is plenty by reputable organizations, studies and US/Foreign government agencies that expose the anti-Human Trafficking scheme OUR is engaged in), they have no business dealing with sex abuse victims. Anyone working with the abused MUST and will be scrutinized, investigated and questioned thoroughly. They are accountable to the public sir.
Your letter is clearly an admission by your client(s) of their gross , unethical and quite possibly dangerous behavior. Both you and your client obviously know the evidence is “damning”, by their own admission Mr. Schofield. Worse, a donor peddled for weeks to the community of Bishop, that she was committing her nonprofit’s entire “winter budget” or close to $200,000 to “finding Karlie Guse.” She offered it to search volunteers who refused it. OUR would receive $275,000 from this donor. What has OUR done for Karlie Guse, an American child, sir?
To think that your clients’ reputation and alleged good deeds hinges on the opinions of some little ‘tabloidesque blog out of Chicago’, by your definition is sad and I’m afraid your letter further erodes OUR’s “tough guy” image. Hard to imagine that your client(s) are out with former Navy SEALs, doing CrossFit in between corralling up black and brown people who dare to seduce poor Mormon men to their country. This image of battling “sicarios, cartel assassins, mobsters and drug and human traffickers armed to the teeth”, that OUR Founder Tim Ballard describes in these “encounters”; is suspect at best. It appears these men nearly soil themselves about a “potential” upcoming article from American Crime Journal. Their actions should speak for themselves. These witnesses, messages and Form 990s tell a completely different story.
OUR “Origins” and Beliefs
Little did people know, however, Operation Underground Railroad was also founded by members of LDS Church. Which it may explain why OUR has a very twisted outlook on “pornography and masturbation”, as OUR Founder Timothy Ballard believes that all sex trafficking is the result of “pornographers and porn addiction”.
You see dating back to 2009, multiple studies and surveys revealed that Utah leads the nation in overall pornagraphy consumption. It is no secret that over 65% of Utah’s population identifies as LDS. For a few years, the LDS Church simply swept this under the rug. To the “prophet”, this statistic was simply the other 35%; the apostates and non-believers in the state. As sex abuse claims in the LDS Church started coming to light in 2012, the LDS Church declared a “jihad” on “pornography”. After all, this is what they believe usually occurs when a child claims sexual abuse. He or she walked in on a bad Mormon watching porn. Traumatized, the child then reports he was molested, fondled and worse. In fact, in no less than seven cases I’ve read about regarding sex abuse allegations in the LDS Church, that is exactly what they concluded occurred.
Operation Underground Railroad was founded in 2013.
Is OUR really interested in liberating brown and black women in foreign countries, or are they more interested in putting them out of business because they feel they are the root cause of Mormon men consuming pornograghy, and believe it seduces them to commit crimes against children?
While ACJ doesn’t have any information from inside OUR that illustrates their motives, ACJ can examine LDS doctrine and teachings when it comes to such things and the results are alarming.
In May 2019, Vice released a damning documentary, taking a look into child sex abuse claims and their handling by the LDS Church, Kirton McConkie and their instruction to Bishops of their wards, using a “catch and kill” method. Kirton McConkie setup a sex abuse hotline for “Bishops” to call (not members of the congregation) in the event an allegation of child sex abuse was reported to them. The helpline was called “LDS Family Services”, but in reality, the calls were forwarded to Kirton McConkie for them to advise the Bishop on what to do next and then try to intercept and mediate the claim between the LDS Church, the perpetrator and the child who was sexually abused.
From the Vice article:
Catholic bishops have been instructed since 2002 to alert the police about suspected abuse before contacting church lawyers. “If you are just looking at it from the outside, you might say to yourself, ‘Are they trying to find a way not to report [incidents]’?” says Kathleen McChesney, a former top official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who consulted with the Catholic Church on its new reporting policies.
Details about the Mormon Church’s abuse reporting system — and Kirton McConkie’s role in it — emerged during Helen’s lawsuit. And other revelations about the firm’s role might have come to light, VICE News has learned, if the Mormon Church hadn’t settled that lawsuit in March of 2018 while a trial was underway.
Timothy Kosnoff, a lawyer who represented Helen and other plaintiffs, says that a Kirton McConkie lawyer named Joseph Osmond acknowledged during a pretrial deposition that the firm uses information gleaned from helpline calls to identify cases that pose a high financial risk to the Mormon Church. Osmond also said during his deposition, which remains sealed, that he did not know why the church does not tell bishops to directly contact police — as the Catholic Church does — instead of calling the helpline, according to Kosnoff.– Meier, Barry. “The Mormon Church Has Been Accused of Using a Victims’ Hotline to Hide Claims of Sexual Abuse.” Vice, 3 May 2019
Here is the video on LDS sex abuse, and the hotline set up by Kirton McConkie
No Oversight of Nonprofits
Sadly, as you know, there are nonprofits here in the United States, supposedly with a certain “calling from the divine”, that really invents a “manufactured crisis” with other intentions. Unfortunately, since there is little-to-no government oversight when it comes to non-profits, they are free to pander & peddle fear to the public and make outrageous, unprovable claims, like curing cancer with “a laying of the hands”, or “erasing debt, if you a sew a seed with your life savings today”, etc. all while those managing it maintain a privileged lifestyle. Since nonprofits are fraught with fraud, deception and corruption, it’s the duty of the free press to investigate their claims, observe the conduct of the leadership and examine their finances.
If OUR is clear of any and all wrongdoing, why exactly are its members hiding behind attorneys the moment a few legitimate questions are asked by those in direct contact with them?
The sole reason that OUR has the privilege– not the right or entitlement to enjoy non-profit status for luxurious vacations & travel accommodations, investments and impressive salaries by the officers of the non-profit is because OUR is to “relieve the government’s burden” and “serve the public trust”. The unprofessional behavior of not only Jon Lines, but, his entitled Bourgeois attitude, throwing temper tantrums, harassing and disrespecting women is unacceptable and the public at large is entitled to know. Numerous people sent letters to OUR regarding Mr. Lines and Ms. Tanner’s behavior and conduct in the Karlie Guse investigation, Mr. Lines and OUR’s response was to hide behind attorneys and issue a “No Further Contact” letter.
OUR Finances are Questionable
In 2018, according to OUR’s Form 990 filing and looking over their From 990’s over a period of 5 years, OUR had accumulated over $46 million in donations from “public funding”. To be perfectly clear, according to the last 5 Form 990s available for OUR, each year over 99% of OUR’s funding came from donors, the “public at-large”. Oddly enough, during that time frame- in the last five years OUR invested $8.5 million in mutual bonds and $4 million in the stock market where it sits to this very day. The public deserves to know that a third of their donations are going into investments, not liberating women and children from sex traffickers.
They create this urgency that they need your money now to liberate these poor black and brown women and children in other countries, ignore the problem in their home state, their own religion and then put over one third of donations collected into stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
Why is OUR ‘investing’ money in mutual bonds and stocks, while pretending we have this crisis. It is not a secret that Berger-North gave OUR $275,000 not long after Ms. Tanner perpetuated that she would commit $200,000 to finding Karlie Guse to members of the community and search volunteers.
It appears OUR”s existence rests entirely on obfuscation, exploiting fears with the “myths of human trafficking”. Knowing the public at large, particular religious fundamentalists, are under the impression and widespread fear- that white suburban children & teens are being abducted, chained up, drugged, then sold outside the United States. Tim Ballard makes bold claims like “each year 100,000 to 200,000 children are trafficked in and out of the United States”, those claims are false, hell outrageous and preposterous, as they use broader statistics to push an agenda that has nothing to do with abduction, kidnapping and humans beings “sold into slavery” on the black market. Rather, illegal immigration, prostitution and labor exploitation being perpetuated as “white suburban teens being sold in other countries”.
As we examined OUR’s finances even further- we realized they don’t actually own, operate or even have authority over majority of the organizations that actually try to rehabilitate and help women and children in these third world nations. One of OUR’s biggest sells are their so-called “aftercare” programs in foreign nations that they market as their own. Just like in the cease and desist letter Looking exactly at where their donations go, many of these organizations are completely independent of OUR and some receive a modest donation and OUR claims on their Form 990, that the organization is “vetted”. That is not an “OUR aftercare program”.
If ACJ donated money to cancer research, does that give us the right to say, “our labs and scientists are working tirelessly to bring you a cure”.
The language and manner in which OUR presents their organization, statistics, and operations leaves many question marks. The fact they have stockpiled over a third of all donations into stocks and mutual funds needs to be investigated. Is is offensive.
Something is not right here.
The American public has a right to free speech and press. The American public also has a right to know about public figures who pander and peddle to the public and receive 99% of their funds from public donations. We have every reason to believe these witnesses and their encounter with Jon Lines and Operation Underground Railroad during their search for Karlie Guse. Their statements are corroborated by material evidence, as well as other witness statements we obtained in interviews concerning other situations which OUR tried to exploit or gain fame from- including (but not limited to) foreign sources, numerous scientific, sociological studies and of course similar anti-human trafficking organizations and the bizarre claims they make. Jon Lines is a public figure, who solicits and panders to “the public at large” for funds which benefit them “personally”, according to OUR’s Form 990s going back to 2014, over 99% (99.1%) is through public donations, and Mr. Lines collected a salary of $159,474 in 2018 alone.
Out of that $12.5 Million dollars sitting in stocks and mutual funds, could they not commit resources, say just $10,000 to finding a missing American girl?
Here is a copy of OUR’s 2018, Form 990:
Further Reading and Sources: