POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Tim Ballard accusations ‘incredibly disturbing’ if true, Cox says

Sep 21, 2023, 3:45 PM | Updated: 5:09 pm

Image of Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly PBS news conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center ...

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly PBS news conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. (Francisco Kjolseth)

(Francisco Kjolseth)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox called sexual misconduct allegations against a prominent anti-child sex trafficking activist and rumored potential Senate candidate “incredibly disturbing” if true.

Tim Ballard, the founder and ex-CEO of Operation Underground Railroad and the subject of the recent hit film “Sound of Freedom,” left the organization earlier this year following an investigation into multiple claims of sexual misconduct involving seven women, Vice News reported Monday.

Cox was asked about the allegations during his monthly news conference with PBS Utah on Thursday, and while he noted that the accusations haven’t been proven, he said Tim Ballard’s ouster from the organization raises questions.

“I know he was terminated from OUR, which I thought was very interesting: that the organization that he created, that he was the face of … that they would terminate him and remove themselves from him,” Cox said. “And so I wondered like everybody else what was happening. There had to be something out there.”

The governor said that he doesn’t know Ballard aside from having met him once in passing in an airport.

According to Vice, Ballard “invited women to act as his ‘wife’ on undercover overseas missions ostensibly aimed at rescuing victims of sex trafficking. He would then allegedly coerce those women into sharing a bed or showering together, claiming that it was necessary to fool traffickers,” according to the report.

Ballard roundly denied the accusations in a statement released Tuesday through the SPEAR Fund, a separate anti-trafficking organization for which he has served as a senior adviser since leaving Operation Underground Railroad.

He said the “latest tabloid-driven sexual allegations are false” and “baseless inventions” that are meant to destroy his credibility.

Operation Underground Railroad told KSL.com in a statement Tuesday that the group “retained an independent law firm to conduct a comprehensive investigation of all relevant allegations” but said “to preserve the integrity of its investigation and to protect the privacy of all persons involved, OUR will not make any further public comment at this time.”

The sexual misconduct allegations were published just days after Vice and other media outlets published a statement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints denouncing Ballard for “the unauthorized use of President (M. Russell) Ballard’s name for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage.”

Tim Ballard — who is not related to President Ballard of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles though the two share the same last name — said he remains a “faithful member in good standing” with the faith and questioned the legitimacy of the statement from the church. Multiple local media outlets, including KSL.com, have independently verified the authenticity of the church statement.

Cox said that he also reached out to the church for confirmation, and was told that “it had been vetted through all the normal church processes” and was not the result of a “rogue spokesperson.”

While Cox believes in a “system where people are innocent until proven guilty, the allegations, though, of several different women are incredibly disturbing and just awful and, if true, just unconscionable,” the governor said. “What do I make of it? It’s very disturbing, and I hope they’re not true … but it would seem like we have multiple organizations that are speaking out and that’s deeply troubling.”

Cox was asked if he is concerned by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ close relationship with Tim Ballard and deferred the question to Reyes’ office. Reyes has accompanied Tim Ballard on international rescue missions and appeared on Ballard’s podcast this summer to discuss “Sound of Freedom.”

Reyes teased that a “dear friend” of his — widely believed to be Tim Ballard — would soon announce a campaign to run for Mitt Romney’s Senate seat, after the senator said he would not seek reelection in 2024. Ballard told Sean Spicer that he was considering running.

The governor thanked Reyes for his commitment to stopping human trafficking, saying that he hopes the allegations against Ballard wouldn’t hurt that cause.

A spokesman for Reyes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

You can watch the full news conference here:

 

 

 

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Tim Ballard accusations ‘incredibly disturbing’ if true, Cox says