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
Editor’s Note: Lynn Packer is an award-winning investigative reporter, television news consultant, law consultant and author of “Lying for the Lord: The Paul H. Dunn Stories“. Mr. Packer graduated from Utah State University with a broadcast journalism degree. He then served in the United States Army from ’68 through ’70 in Vietnam as a television news anchor and producer for the Armed Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN), Quang Tri detachment. He was awarded the Bronze Star. For 15 years Mr. Packer reported for KSL Television News in Salt Lake City. His teaching career spanned ten years as an adjunct journalism instructor at Brigham Young University and the University of Dortmund in Germany. We’d like to thank Mr. Packer for his service, dedication and contributions to journalism and ongoing quest for the truth.
The following article is part of a larger, comprehensive investigation into Utah AG Sean Reyes and his involvement in the “child sex slave rescue industry” originally published in 2015 at the packerchronicle. You can read it in its entirety, along with other fantastic in-depth investigative work at The Packer Chronicle at www.lyingforthelord.com.
The Hyping of Operation Underground Railroad
Tears frequently flow when Tim Ballard describes the suffering he sees child sex slaves experience at the hands of depraved traffickers. He talks openly of the fasting and prayer that precede a jump team strike to rescue the kids. “I know the Lord is with me and my team,” he told a reporter. “When you’re on the Lord’s errand, he blesses you.”
Ballard grew up in the Pasadena, California suburb. The Deseret News, when it pronounced Ballard a “Hero of 2014,” said Ballard’s mother Melanie thought Tim would grow up to be a lawyer because, even as a child, he was obsessed with the idea of right and wrong: “He would always wear a Superman cape,” she said. “He was the conscience of the family, he sees right and wrong as very black and white,” she told the newspaper.
Ballard told The Deseret News he graduated from Brigham Young University in Spanish and political science with a 4.0 GPA, served an LDS Church mission in Chile and went on to win a scholarship at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, where he earned his master’s degree in international politics, summa cum laude.
Before Ballard ever appeared on Glenn Beck’s show to pitch saving sex slaves he was a guest to promote his book, “The Lincoln Hypothesis.” The book attempts to make the case that Abraham Lincoln was inspired by God and had read the Book of Mormon and accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mormonism). Ballard says it is significant that right after Lincoln purportedly read the Book of Mormon he issued the Emancipation Proclamation to Free the slaves.
Ballard’s belief in the God-inspired righteousness of freeing the slaves is part of the impetus behind his calling his team abolitionists and naming his organization Operation Underground Railroad after the network of secret routes and safe houses abolitionists used to help 19th Century Negro slaves escape to freedom.
(At the time Ballard formed O.U.R. there was already an anti-child sex slavery charity named “The Underground Railroad” so he added “Operation” to his charity’s name. Other modern-day child-slave rescue groups have also referred to themselves as abolitionists. The “New Abolitionists” movement is an expression evangelicals and other activists have long used to describe their efforts to combat modern-day slavery.)
Ballard calls donations to his charity “sacred dollars.” He wrote on his website that “during missions, OUR rescue jump teams rent only 1 room for the whole team, eat cheap food, and more to cut operational costs as much as possible to help your tax-deductible dollars go farther in freeing enslaved children,” he wrote on his website. It’s one of a star-studded list of representations that may not be completely true, perhaps even false.
★The one-hotel-room claim.
It’s almost certain that most of Ballard’s jump team members do not share a single room. At times the number of decoy partiers he takes along could number near a dozen. (One source says O.U.R. deploys three ten-man teams.)
It could be that Ballard, as God’s instrument, believes he is justified in fudging the truth to raise awareness and get funding to free child sex slaves. Ballard’s single-hotel room budget pledge is not the only time he’s fudged facts that are often passed along by news reporters as true.
There is a danger associated with misrepresenting facts to get money. Anyone seeking other people’s money in Utah—whether from investors or donors—risks running afoul of Utah’s Communications Fraud statute. The law prohibits taking other people’s money with the use of “fraudulent pretense, representations, promises or material omissions.” Just as salesmen are not free to say anything to get people to part with their
money, neither are fundraisers, even those raising money for charities. All are subject to prosecution for failing to provide prospective donors material and truthful facts.
The victims of charity communications fraud are not the donors, who may have given even if they knew the truth. They get their tax deductions. The primary victims are taxpayers who depend on government agencies to protect them from tax cheats.
★The we’re-the-only-ones claim.
One of Ballard’s pitches, repeated in the trailer for his movie The Abolitionists:
“if me and my team don’t find these kids and go for these kids no one is going to.”
The truth is there are many child rescue charities and law enforcement agencies that use “jump teams” to rescue children involved with illegal prostitution and pornography. Many also use citizen hot lines, computer software and other means to try to locate and save children being used for illegal activity.
Indeed, so many tax and donation dollars are going to child rescue some experts wonder if a lot of it is not being wasted. Government agencies, including many in Utah and private charities alike, compete for grants and donations.
★The millions-of-victims claim.
Then there’s the numbers game. Is Ballard truthful and accurate about the numbers he uses to stir donor concern? A sampling of his and his associates’ quotes in the media:
- Ballard says that the statistics give him reason enough to do the work he does—over 27 million men, women, and children are currently slaves in some form, and 2 million of them are children,” he told the Mormon Channel.
- Currently, there are an estimated 27 million enslaved humans in the world. Human trafficking is growing as the second fastest criminal enterprise in the world and is an estimated $32 billion-a-year global industry.
- Today there are 27 million slaves, according to Ballard. Of those slaves, roughly 10 million are commercial sex slaves. Out of the 10 million, about 2 million are children.
- Ballard told Glenn Beck’s viewers, “Most people have no concept of “how real and how huge” of an issue child sex trafficking is. Nearly two million children are trapped as sex slaves, and roughly 90% of them fall out of U.S. jurisdiction.
- There’s two million children being exploited commercially for sex,” Ballard said.”
- “It’s estimated there are one hundred thousand children who are in the commercial sex trade here in the United States,” Ballard said on NBC’s Meredith Vieira Show.
- “Every year 800,000 children are imported into the U.S. as sex slaves,” says Matt Osborne, O.U.R. V.P. for intelligence.
The last figure—800,000 child sex slaves a year imported into the U.S.— would be hardest to fathom. The charity’s vice president for intelligence and foreign missions, Matt Osborne, gave that number to a Texas Tea Party group in January. That would amount to 4 million sex slaves in five years or an average of 80,000 in each state over just five years.
An old, 2007, State Department report does use an 800,000 figure. But it includes adults and children, it includes labor slaves and sex slaves, and it includes all borders in the world, not just those adjoining the United States.
(Osborne is ex-CIA. He told the group he quit after having “lost a lot of confidence” in President George W. Bush and Barrack Obama. He also told he gave up regular pay from the government and healthcare to join O.U.R. He did not tell them O.U.R. pays him $110,00 a year and includes health insurance.)
Other charities and government agencies often use the same numbers to raise funds to combat the sexual exploitation of children. Some numbers come from the U.S. federal government. By law the U.S. State Department is required to issue an annual Trafficking in Persons report. In 2007 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reported:
A wide range of estimates exists on the scope and magnitude of modern-day slavery. The International labor Organization (ILO)—the United Nations agency…estimates there are 12.3 million people in forced labor, bonded labor, forced child labor, and sexual servitude at any given time; other estimates range from 4 million to 27 million.
Wikipedia says, “The International Labor Organization estimates that there are as many as 1.8 million children sexually trafficked worldwide, while UNICEF’s 2006 State of the World’s Children Report reports this number to be 2 million.”
What Ballard and Osborne and other fundraisers don’t say is that some experts and the U.S. State Department are backing off last decade’s numbers. The U.S. State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report warns news reporters about what it calls the “numbers game,” the same game it once played.
“Reporters often lead with numbers,” the report says, “but reliable statistics related to human trafficking are difficult to find.”
Floridian Tom Gillen—who’s been training law enforcement officers in human trafficking since 2004—warns, “Don’t get caught up in the numbers.” Gillen, who is director of the Central Florida Catholic Charities Criminal Justice Office and teaches at St. Petersburg College Center for Human Trafficking Awareness, told packerchronicle, “I hate those approximate numbers because you can make up anything you want. And the reason that they use those numbers, in my opinion, is as a marketing tool to get people to give to their cause.”
There are a lot of non-profit organizations that are popping up, they are coming out of the woodwork, raising money, saying that they are rescuing people, and doing this or doing out and what we’re finding out is that they are really not doing a whole lot of anything. They are getting wealthy off their donations.
Gillen doesn’t like the idea of charities forming rescue teams, often with former military. “To me that’s the job of law enforcement,” he said, “finding them, rescuing them.”
They investigate and then they rescue the victims. Then you have the nongovernment organizations (NGOs) such as Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Lutheran Family services, those types of organizations actually work with law enforcement hand-in-hand and care for the victims and work them through the trial and prosecution process. It’s a joint effort.
Gillen was asked about the videos some charities, including O.U.R. make of dramatic rescues.
“Those are the things that bother me,” he said. “There have been quite a few of those videos that organizations produce and then they use those to even make more money.”
Gillen was told that Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes went on one of O.U.R.’s missions and appeared in a promotional video.
“Wow, that’s scary,” he responded.
Ballard often tells reporters and donors the problem is getting worse. If it is getting worse then the hundreds of millions being poured into the problem by government and private groups around the world is not helping much.
There is one indication, although anecdotal not scientific, that it’s getting better. The FBI’s report on the number of minors arrested for prostitution and commercialization, while a tiny indicator, shows the number arrested dropping every year, from 1,158 in 2008 to 161 in 2012.
★The child-is-a-slave claim.
O.U.R.’s signature promotional photograph shows Ballard with a purported child slave he rescued in Haiti. “Finally this little boy realized that I was there to rescue him. He ran into my arms and buried his head in my neck as we both sobbed,” Ballard says.
But was the child really being sold into slavery?
Ballard tells the story of how an LDS bishop’s 3-year-old son in Haiti had been kidnapped after church services. The kidnappers demanded a ransom, it was paid, but the child was not returned. Ballard’s team, working with Haitian police, went there to find the child. ”We believe the child was sold to traffickers…for slave labor,” Ballard said in an interview with The LDS Church’s Mormon Channel.
Pretending to be traffickers, Ballard’s team went to an unlicensed orphanage police suspected might be used to traffic kids. “There were 15 kids, a lot of them on the verger of starving, horrible conditions, we were told pick which one you want, fifteen thousand dollars, out the back door, right now, no questions asked.” Ballard bought two children before the police came in, made arrests and “liberated” the kids.“
Ballard describes the sting operation in a YouTube promotional video. As it shows kids in the orphanage Ballard talks Haitian children being groomed as sex slaves. “These kids can be raped twenty, thirty, forty times a day,” he said, “this is the greatest plague on the earth today. Thousands are smuggled out every year.” He said sex travelers come to Haiti and “they take these children for a night or two nights, and they’re paying double or triple what it costs to get an adult prostitute.”
When Ballard appeared in an interview with Fox News reporter Chris Wallace, Wallace seemed a bit skeptical.
Ballard: In Haiti, for example, we had traffickers sell us children for fifteen thousand dollars. We walked out with the kids, a two year old and a three-year-old.
Wallace: “Wait, wait. A two-year-old, three-year-old. Sex slaves?”
Ballard: “They didn’t care what we did with them.”
Ballard offered no proof the Haitian children he freed were being trafficked for sex or labor o just being sold for adoption. What Ballard knew or should have known and disclosed is that many Haitian orphanages were involved in illegal adoption trafficking. Especially after the 2010 earthquake, parents would abandon their children at orphanages in the hope they would be adopted by wealthy foreigners and then raised outside of extreme poverty.
One scam example was an Idaho woman who established a charitable orphanage in Haiti. She was convicted for adoption trafficking by a Haitian court after allegedly trying to smuggle 33 children out of the country.
★ Another credibility matter: Ballard failed to disclose that neither his charity nor the two fiscal sponsors he used to get tax-exempt and tax-deductions was registered in the state as required by law. Even if it is a law the state chooses not to enforce.
★ Neither do any of his web pitches disclose Ballard is a partner with the for-profit Abolitionists, LLC.
Although he did say if the movie makes money part of the proceeds will go to O.U.R.
★The we’re-developing-software claim.
Ballard’s claim to have or be developing special software to detect bad guys is also rather fuzzy. Last month [February 2015] LDS Living magazine reported, “In addition to executing rescue missions around the world, Ballard’s team is developing software that will track child pornography and lead law enforcement to the pornographers.”
If that statement is true the company is unwilling to describe its software
development program. COO Jerry Gowen was vague. “We’re trying to leverage technology that exists,” Gowen said. He called the existing technology “baseline”, but he didn’t know the product’s name, and would only say that O.U.R. had used some “domestically.” “Tim has some great plans on how to make that better,“ he said.
Does O.U.R. have programmers? Gowen was asked. “We’re just starting that process now working with folks on government side and some large technology companies who are willing to partner with us.”
The company was more certain about its technology eleven months ago when the web news outlet VentureBeat (VB) did a story. VB reported that “the heart of OUR is the startup’s data mining platform. The technology acts as a sniffer, which they deploy against networks that child traffickers and pedophiles use to communicate with each other. CPS can monitor communications through ISPs. And through its data mining protocols, Ballard and his team can isolate, and monitor, the most egregious offenders.”
The story featured a photo of Tim Ballard and Elizabeth Smart meeting with Sgt. Ray Loera with California’s Imperial County Sheriff’s Office. “The law enforcement officers made quick use of the software,” the story said. A Sheriff’s sergeant told VB’s reporter, “He brought the technology here that allowed us to make the case. From what I’ve seen, this is a very effective tool for law enforcement. And as a result of using it, we made a good arrest.” “Ballard calls the software a child protection system (CPS),” the article said.
What the VentureBeat reporter didn’t know of didn’t choose to report is that it was not O.U.R.’s software but, instead, that of Child Rescue Coalition (CRC) of Florida (not to be confused with Utah’s Child Rescue Association of North America.) Child Rescue Coalition’s software , CPS, was first developed by a Wyoming law enforcement agency , further developed by TLL, LLC of Florida and then acquired by the child rescue charity.
Child Rescue Association once licensed O.U.R. to distribute the software—its open source and free—and train law enforcement agencies to use it. But when O.U.R. inferred in its marketing that the O.U.R. developed the software, CRC asked it to stop. The Florida charity believed O.U.R.’s fundraising was improperly highlighting CRC’s product. But when O.U.R. continued, CRC pulled the license.
As late as January of this year, however, O.U.R was again saying it is developing a software it will give away free while showing a PowerPoint slide that labels its software “CPS.”
On an O.U.R. Facebook posting last month, Tim Ballard said their new data mining software is named STARS, which stands for Sex Traveler Apprehension and Retention System. He said the term “stars” is also symbolic “in that stars were used in the original underground railroad.” He said his charity has been meeting with “executives from major high tech companies and government officials as well as U.S. senators and congressmen,” in connection with the software. “It will be a game changer,” he said. “It’s going to be huge.”
★The O.U.R.-masterminded-the Columbian-sex-trafficking-sting-operation claim.
Yet another candor cloud hangs over O.U.R.’s most publicized of the 13 rescue missions it conduced in 2014, the raid in Columbia. It’s the one Reyes was on. So how did it all go down? The basic facts are O.U.R. did participate, it was a big operation, purported child sex slaves were freed and bad guys were arrested. But the rest of the story is rather muddled, warranting a closer look.
Get Informed! Further information about Human Trafficking, Sex Slavery & Kidnapping Myths & Facts:
President Trump’s fantastical human trafficking claims, Washington Post– 7 Feb. 2017: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/02/07/president-trumps-fantastical-human-trafficking-claims/
The false claim that human trafficking is a ‘$9.5 billion business’ in the United States, Washington Post– 2 June 2015: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/06/02/the-false-claim-that-child-sex-trafficking-is-a-9-5-billion-business-in-the-united-states/
The fishy claim that ‘100,000 children’ in the United States are in the sex trade, Washington Post, 2 Sept. 2015: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/09/02/the-fishy-claim-that-100000-children-in-the-united-states-are-in-the-sex-trade/
The bogus claim that 300,000 U.S. children are ‘at risk’ of sexual exploitation, Washington Post, 28 May 2015: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/05/28/the-bogus-claim-that-300000-u-s-children-are-at-risk-of-sexual-exploitation/
Super Bowl Sex-Trafficking Myths Return, Reason, 1 Oct. 2020: https://reason.com/2020/01/10/super-bowl-sex-trafficking-myths-return/
Human Trafficking in America: Myths and Realities, Reason, 8 Nov. 2015: https://reason.com/video/human-trafficking-in-america-myths-and-r/
Trafficking in Persons Report 2019 (TIPS Report), United States State Department, june 2019: https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/2019-Trafficking-in-Persons-Report.pdf
Police, survivors debunk human trafficking kidnapping myths, Michigan Live, 16 Jan 2020: https://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/2020/01/police-survivors-debunk-human-trafficking-kidnapping-myths.html
VERIFY: Do child sex traffickers look for victims at the store?, KBTV Channel 9, 11 July 2017: https://www.9news.com/article/news/verify/verify-do-child-sex-traffickers-look-for-victims-at-the-store/73-455918970
Police: No increasing trend in missing kids, West Hawaii Today, 17 June 2020: https://www.westhawaiitoday.com/2020/06/17/hawaii-news/police-no-increasing-trend-in-missing-kids/
Trump’s Human Trafficking Record Is Fake News, Foreign Policy, 20 June 2019: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/06/20/trumps-human-trafficking-record-is-fake-news/
White Mom’s Burden, New Republic, 25 June 2019: https://newrepublic.com/article/154119/white-moms-burden