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Operation Underground Railroad spent years downplaying criminal investigation

Representatives lied about its existence, Tim Ballard walked out of an interview with FOX 13 News when asked about the case
Posted at 9:13 PM, Sep 15, 2023

DAVIS COUNTY, Utah — FOX 13 News was the first to report in 2020 the Davis County Attorney’s Office opened a criminal investigation into Tim Ballard and the non-profit organization he founded, Operation Underground Railroad (OUR).

Now that at least a portion of that investigation has concluded, there's still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the focus of that case.

An article from VICE News published Friday morning gives a small snapshot, citing information about Ballard receiving "psychic readings" and communicating with the prophet Nephi.

Records show President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was at least peripherally involved in the criminal investigation.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints released a statement to FOX 13 News on Friday, citing betrayal and "morally unacceptable" behavior from Tim Ballard.

Tim Ballard is not related to President M. Russell Ballard.

As FOX 13 News first reported in 2020, the investigation began with questions about money. Sources close to the investigation say it centered around potential charges of communications fraud and witness tampering.

In 2020, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings posted these messages on his personal Instagram account:

"Please be aware 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... 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.”

The messages did not name OUR directly.

FOX 13 News interviewed Ballard in February, prior to his departure from OUR.

We asked if his organization has ever "over-exaggerated" its accomplishments.

"No," Ballard said. "No. I mean it's funny. When we give our numbers, we’re actually pretty conservative."

When asked if OUR was still under investigation, Ballard replied, "You know, I focus on rescuing kids and I have a team that would answer that question."

Ballard eventually got angry, ripped off his microphone, and walked out of the interview.

"Yeah. Unbelievable," he said. "I'm out of here."

For years, members of the OUR team indicated to FOX 13 News the criminal investigation was either closed or did not exist.

Alessandra Serano, the chief legal officer for OUR, acknowledged the existence of the criminal investigation in June. She could not explain why FOX 13 News was told otherwise by other OUR representatives.

"What was the basis of the investigation?" asked FOX 13 News investigative reporter Adam Herbets.

"You'd have to ask the Davis County Attorney's Office," Serano said. "We provided information related to how money was spent, that sort of thing. We opened up our books... We were told soon after I joined (in 2021) that OUR likely was not a target of the investigation, that it may have been certain individuals."

"Do you feel that this is now fully behind you?" Herbets asked.

"I certainly hope so," Serano replied. "I mean, we have to take the Davis County Attorney at his word that this is over."

Completed investigations are typically a matter of public record, regardless of whether charges are filed. When FOX 13 News asked for a copy of the case file through Utah's public records act, prosecutors chose not to respond.

When OUR learned of public-record requests from the media, an attorney for OUR wrote a letter to Davis County asked for the case file to not be released, in part because of "federal grand jury material."

Serano declined to answer whether she had spoken with federal prosecutors or the FBI about the criminal investigation.

She also said she doesn't "really have an opinion" on whether the case file should be public.

"I can see both sides," Serano said. "The fact that there may or may not be a federal grand jury investigation... is not something that is necessarily disclosed."

FOX 13 News believes at least some of the records concerning the investigation should be public. We are currently in the process of filing appeals.

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