SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah prosecutor is investigating Operation Underground Railroad - one of the best-known organizations combating human trafficking.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings confirmed the investigation in a brief statement to FOX 13.
“We’ve received complaints and are in the process of reviewing those complaints,” Rawlings said.
Rawlings’ office also denied FOX 13’s request for records concerning the inquiry.
“These records are all part of an ongoing investigation and release would interfere with that investigation,” the letter explained.
Neither the letter nor Rawlings statement specified why O.U.R. — as the anti-trafficking organization is often called — is under investigation.
However, in recent posts to his Instagram account, Rawlings implied a local nonprofit was conducting illegal fundraising efforts by taking credit for arrests made by the Davis County Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Rawlings did not name the charity.
“Please beware,” Rawlings wrote on Instagram, “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. Get the details before parting with your cash... They have had absolutely zero involvement in any of these arrests and successful prosecutions you see on display on the 'Wall of Shame' in the Davis County Attorney's Office.”
In another post referencing soliciting for charities, Rawlings suggested some witnesses have been hindered by nondisclosure agreements, often known as an “NDA.”
That post, as written, said: “Additional witnesses: Do not be afraid of their NDA, they cannot successfully sue you for cooperating truthfully with law-enforcement.
“Just because someone claims they are called of God when asking for your money does not necessarily mean they actually are.”
Yet, an attorney from O.U.R., in a statement to FOX 13, denied there is any investigation.
“Today, I spoke with the Davis County Attorney and was informed there is no investigation into Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.),” the organization’s general counsel, Adam Becker, said in the statement. O.U.R. did not offer further comment.
Rawlings responded to the assertion only by saying: "for today, it is better not to respond to that."
O.U.R. has offices in Cedar City, Utah, and Anaheim, California. The charity makes grants to law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad so they can pursue human traffickers and people who target children for sex crimes. O.U.R. also says it provides training to law enforcement and the public to watch for signs of trafficking.
The O.U.R. founder, Tim Ballard, is a Brigham Young University graduate and a former agent with the CIA and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He has gone undercover in foreign countries to help arrest trafficking suspects.
In 2014, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes joined O.U.R. on a sting in Colombia. According to campaign documents, Reyes lists himself as an O.U.R. advisory board member.
"There were about 54 girls ranging in age from 10-16, and they were expecting to have sex with all these Americans," Reyes recalled in a 2015 interview with FOX 13.
On Tuesday, Reyes received an award from Daughters of the American Revolution. During his speech, Reyes made multiple references to the great work O.U.R. has accomplished.
After the event, Reyes declined to answer FOX 13 questions related to O.U.R. or its fundraising efforts.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General's Office later said he was not aware of a criminal investigation and would not comment even if he was aware.
Ballard and other O.U.R. representatives often refer to the trafficking of people for labor or sex work as slavery and its staff and volunteers as abolitionists. In 2019, Ballard sat beside President Donald Trump and argued a wall along the Mexican border would help combat sex trafficking.
Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Justice data and news releases show most sex trafficking happens through the ports of entry or victims already in the United States are coerced into it.
“They’re selling these kids to you like they’re selling a car or a computer,” Ballard said in 2014, describing one sting operation. “At our party, they brought five 11-year-olds, including one little boy, 11 years old, who were being offered as virgins and you pay a premium for that. That’s $1,000.”
O.U.R. published a video online on October 2, claiming to answer "the CONTROVERSIAL questions we receive."
The video did not address the criminal investigation.
Fundraising at O.U.R. has grown exponentially in recent years. The charity had $6.9 million in revenues in 2016, according to the organization’s reports to the IRS. In 2019, O.U.R. revenues jumped to $22.3 million.