The Shady Side Of Tim Ballard

On July 4, 2023, a less-hyped indie film, "Sound of Freedom," made its big screen debut. Its plot is simple, yet captivating: A homeland security agent leaves his government job for a much more risky task of rescuing child trafficking victims. "Sound of Freedom" is based on the story of Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad. OUR conducts rescue missions in real life. Created on a budget of $14 million, the flick became a box office hit, outshining big-budget movies like "Fast X" and "Elemental." 

While the masses loved it on the big screen, "Sound of Freedom" attracted heavy criticism from several news outlets. To the film's lead actor Jim Caviezel, however, he was chronicling the narrative of one man's courage. "I get to play an absolute real bona fide hero in Tim Ballard," he remarked in an interview with Fox News. "He did everything that you read about in the gospels." Caviezel likened the role to his controversial portrayal of Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ."

Although his idolization of Ballard is justified by the praise the latter's work has received over the years, beyond the accolades lie reports of unethical practices, questionable associations, and inconsistencies in some of OUR's stories. This is the shady side of Tim Ballard.

Tim Ballard left OUR amid allegations of sexual misconduct

A decade after founding Operation Underground Railroad, Tim Ballard made an exit. Ballard reportedly retreated to pave the way for an internal probe. It later emerged that he had left OUR due to allegations of offensive sexual advances. Ballard had supposedly pressured women into sharing a bed and taking joint showers during rescue operations in foreign countries under the guise of being his spouse. Moreover, he allegedly sent one woman inappropriate pictures.

In response to claims made against him, The Spear Fund senior advisor wrote partly on the organization's website, "During my time at O.U.R., I designed strict guidelines for myself and our operators in the field. Sexual contact was prohibited, and I led by example. Given our meticulous attention to this issue, any suggestion of inappropriate sexual contact is categorically false." Ballard further stated that he was a target, and efforts were being made to soil the good reputation he'd built each passing year.

Operation Underground Railroad was under investigation

The New York Post initially reported the possibility of an Operation Underground Railroad investigation in March 2017. According to the news outlet, there were grievances raised about the Tim Ballard-led entity's alleged deceitful acquisition and misuse of donor funding. The Utah-based non-profit reportedly claimed to use its finances to combat local issues. It was backed by state Attorney General Sean Reyes, who hailed OUR's activities on TEDx the previous year.

In October 2020, it was reported that OUR was under probe. While details of the investigation weren't publicly revealed, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings told Fox 13 News, "We've received complaints and are in the process of reviewing those complaints." At the time of reporting, Reyes, who served on OUR's board of advisers and was part of a Colombia operation in October 2014, declined to comment on the investigation.

Fox 13 News further relayed that Rawlings had posted a series of cryptic posts via his personal Instagram account to alert the public. "Please beware of any individual, entity or organization who solicits your money and may be claiming credit for work to protect children that is actually done by our task force and/or other law-enforcement organizations in Utah and around the world," he wrote in part. In May 2023, the investigation came to a close.

Tim Ballard's row with the LDS Church

Tim Ballard alleged that a key figure at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was instrumental — albeit covertly— in Operational Underground Railroad's running. President Melvin Russell Ballard, the leader in question, was said to have also backed Tim's private business dealings. According to witnesses in a wrapped-up investigation, Tim's involvement was supposedly meant to draw larger numbers into practicing the Mormon faith.

The Mormon Church asserted that Tim, who coincidentally bears the same last name as president Melvin despite no biological relation, was an old acquaintance. However, a spokesperson told Vice News that  he'd "betrayed their friendship, through the unauthorized use of President Ballard's name for Tim Ballard's personal advantage and activity regarded as morally unacceptable."

Speaking to a crowd in Boston, Tim responded to the accusations made against him. "President Ballard is like a grandfather to me," he said to reporters. "He came to me in ... 2012 ... 2011, and he told me that he appreciates all the things I'm doing and he wants to help me do it. Never in my life ... never have I used his name to raise money [or] to make some business deal." The negative publicity he was receiving, he added, was taking a toll on his family's well-being.

Discrepancies in the dog tag story

At the center of Operation Underground Railroad's beginnings lies the touching story of a dog tag necklace. Just as it's depicted in "Sound of Freedom" with a little twist, Tim Ballard received the necklace from a little boy during a rescue operation prior to founding OUR. Inscribed on the pendant were the words "Man of God" and a bible verse from the book of 1 Timothy: 6:11. To Ballard, it marked the beginning of his purpose, as he shared on OUR's blog and recounted in an interview with CBN News. 

The Salt Lake City Tribune, however, highlighted inconsistencies in Ballard's story, based on an investigation by journalist Lynn Kenneth Parker. According to court records obtained by the publication, the interception of pedophile Earl Buchanan (who had held the boy in Ballard's story) happened at a routine border search, and wasn't based on a tip-off. Most shocking was the probability that the sentimental moment between Ballard and the boy may have been a figment of his imagination. While Ballard's account suggested that an interview happened, during which he was handed the dog tag necklace, court records showed that the government could not "produce what doesn't exist " per request.

In response, Ballard told the publication, "I can't control all the details that end up making it into court documents. But I can tell you that me and another ICE special agent ... absolutely did interview the little boy, at least two separate times — taking him to McDonald's and then Denny's."

Operation Underground Railroad lied about an American Airlines partnership

While it was reported that Tim Ballard and OUR took credit for the rescue of "Liliana," a trafficked survivor who escaped her abductor on her own after seven years, Ballard mentioned that the organization didn't handle her release and only provided aftercare in a senate hearing. Still, there's another half-truth that was allegedly told by OUR. In June 2022, Ballard made a since-deleted Instagram post that suggested a partnership between OUR and American Airlines. "Look out for this video all month long on @americanair domestic flights. So grateful to American Airlines for helping us spread awareness," he wrote in part (via Vice). Ballard's announcement was accompanied by a tweet and a Facebook post on OUR's official accounts. 

American Airlines eventually denied the existence of such a collaboration. In a statement to Vice, the company said, "Content from Operation Underground Railroad is not available on American's in-flight entertainment, and we do not have any partnership or affiliation with the organization."

Besides making the false claim, Operation Underground Railroad was reported to have used questionable methods of obtaining information. Apparently, one of the organization's missions on the Dominican Republic-Haitian border involved an alert by an Utah-based psychic.

The Tim Ballard-associated Nazarene Fund was reportedly 'problematic'

Tim Ballard stepped down from his role as Chief Executive Officer of The Nazarene Fund in July 2023.The move coincided with news of Ballard's departure from Operation Underground Railroad. Just like OUR, the Glenn Beck-supported Nazarene Fund was allegedly guilty of feeding the public half-truths. According to Vice, President Joe Biden's administration said, "The Nazarene fund was problematic in a lot of ways" during the rescue of the Afghan girls' national soccer team after the country was invaded by the Taliban.

The Nazarene Fund supposedly embellished its role in the mission. In an interview with Beck, DeliverFund founder Nic McKinley revealed that the Nazarene Fund came onboard after the operation was underway to assist with air travel. "There's a really important piece here that's really a feather in the cap of The Nazarene Fund," he said. "And that is the fact that The Nazarene Fund was smart enough to have credit with Kam Air." The organization, he added, was also influential in getting clearance from the Taliban through former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The bone of contention was Beck's implication of active involvement in tweets that left out key figures in the operation: the USAID, DeliverFund, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, and the governments of Georgia and Portugal, where the team was granted asylum. Subsequently, there were questions about financial accountability — including a lack of transparency on the use of $35.5 million collected for the rescue of Christian fugitives — since The Nazarene Fund was fully compensated by the DeliverFund.

He was an advocate of the Trump wall

Tim Ballard shares a friendship with former President Donald Trump, one which saw the latter congratulate him for the release of "Sound of Freedom." During a July 2023 appearance on "The Tim Ballard Podcast" alongside the film's lead Jim Caviezel, the ex-POTUS weighed in on what he considered the sorry state of the United States border. "It's incredibly bad right now," he said. "It's so sad to see what's happened and that includes trafficking, includes drugs, includes everything: people coming in from all over the world ... we have a terrible group of people running our country."

Construction of the infamous Trump wall — meant to separate the United States and Mexico — was halted by the Biden administration in April 2021. Ballard was a staunch supporter of the wall, and in a Deseret News piece, advocated for its role in helping with the war against child trafficking.

"If the wall expanded the length of the southern border, imagine how many more children would be pushed through the ports of entry and subsequently rescued instead of being brought through where the rescuer can't see, where law enforcement can't easily intervene," Ballard wrote, adding that traffickers would bow out of committing the crime in the first place, if they knew their entry points were limited.

If you or anyone you know may be the victim of child abuse or sexual assault, contact the relevant resources below: