Five women on Monday sued the founder of an anti-child-trafficking group that inspired a popular movie this year, alleging he sexually manipulated, abused and harassed them on overseas trips designed to lure and catch child sex traffickers.
Tim Ballard’s life story and work with Operation Underground Railroad inspired “Sound of Freedom,” a 2023 film popular with conservative moviegoers. He recently resigned from the group amid sexual abuse and harassment allegations he has denied.
Ballard’s prominence as an opponent of child sex trafficking got him invited to the White House under President Donald Trump. Previously a special adviser to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, Ballard was appointed to a White House anti-human-trafficking board in 2019.
The complaints against Ballard center on a “couple’s ruse” he allegedly engaged in with Operation Underground Railroad women who posed as his wife to fool child sex traffickers into thinking he was a legitimate client, according to the lawsuit filed in Utah state court.
Phone and email messages left with Operation Underground Railroad and Ballard’s representatives were not immediately returned Monday.
The ruse began with Ballard and women in the organization taking cross-country trips to “practice” their “sexual chemistry” with tantric yoga, couple’s massages with escorts and performing lap dances on Ballard, the lawsuit claims.
While promotional materials portrayed the group’s overseas missions as “paramilitary drop-ins to arrest traffickers and rescue children,” they mostly involved “going to strip clubs and massage parlors across the world, after flying first class to get there, and staying at five-star hotels, on boats, and at VRBOs (vacation rentals by owner) across the globe,” the lawsuit alleges.
Several women, meanwhile, were eventually subjected to “coerced sexual contact,” including “several sexual acts with the exception of actual penetration, in various states of undress,” the lawsuit alleges.
Even in private, the lawsuit alleges: “Ballard would claim that he and his female partner had to maintain the appearance of a romantic relationship at all times in case suspicious traffickers might be surveilling them at any moment.”
The women, who filed the lawsuit under pseudonyms, allege Ballard meanwhile used his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and connection to church leaders to persuade them what he was doing was just for the good of children in need of help.
Ballard said a high-ranking church leader, M. Russell Ballard, no relation, gave him special permission to use the couples ruse “as long as there was no sexual intercourse or kissing.” The church in a September statement condemned Tim Ballard for “unauthorized use” of the church leader’s name for personal advantage and “activity regarded as morally unacceptable.”
Tim Ballard claimed a passage in the Book of Mormon justified performing “unconventional” tasks, the lawsuit alleges.
“Ballard would get ketamine treatments and have a scribe come in with him while he would talk to the dead prophet Nephi and issue forth prophecies about Ballard’s greatness and future as a United States senator, president of the United States and ultimately the Mormon prophet to usher in the second coming of Christ,” the lawsuit states.
Days before the church condemned Ballard, Mitt Romney announced he would not seek a second term representing Utah in the U.S. Senate. Ballard, who has said he was considering running for Senate, has blamed political opponents for the recent sexual allegations against him.
This story has been corrected to show that M. Russell Ballard is a high-ranking leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but that he is not president of the entire faith.