Bree Righter, a Marine veteran and social worker who previously spoke to VICE News under a pseudonym about her experiences with Operation Underground Railroad, has filed suit in Utah’s Third District against Tim Ballard, the group’s founder; OUR; an OUR subsidiary called Deacon, Inc.; and Matt Cooper, who worked for years as OUR’s director of security. A copy of the complaint reviewed by VICE News alleges, among other things, that Cooper committed sexual assault and battery; that Cooper, Ballard, and OUR conspired to commit battery; and that Cooper and Ballard committed fraud.
Righter is represented by the attorneys who have filed a series of previous lawsuits against Ballard and OUR. The first was brought by women who say they were subjected to sexual coercion while on purported anti-trafficking missions with Ballard. A married couple has also filed suit, alleging that Ballard and OUR’s behavior led to their separation. Righter’s lawsuit centers on sexual misconduct she says took place while she was volunteering for OUR as an undercover operative and on the disastrous eye and facial injuries she sustained during a training exercise conducted by OUR in 2021, in which her orbital bone was destroyed.
Ballard, a PR representative said to represent him, and the SPEAR Fund, a new anti-trafficking organization with which he’s affiliated, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Nor did Cooper or OUR.
Ballard has previously defended the use of what he calls the “couples ruse,” in which women would, he has said, pose as male OUR operators’ wives or girlfriends on missions to prevent the male operators from having to sexually touch trafficked women and girls. The women, for their part, say this was a pretext for Ballard—who, they say, invoked the authority of God and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—to exploit them sexually, coercing them into intimacy which he said was necessary to save children and fool traffickers.
Righter previously outlined her experiences to VICE News, the first time she’d ever spoken about this series of events to journalists. She recounted a trip to the British Virgin Islands with Ballard and Cooper in which, she said, Ballard relentlessly tried to get her to have sex with Cooper, to whom she had been assigned to as a couples ruse partner. Righter also said that the trip was essentially a luxury vacation, with the group quarantining on a private island owned by OUR allies. Following that, Righter says, Ballard and his couples ruse partner spent hours in bars, massage parlors, and strip clubs across the islands, supposedly looking for evidence of trafficking, while Righter and Cooper trailed them in a car. Righter also said that on the apparent say-so of God, Ballard impulsively assigned her to be the primary operative communicating with a suspected trafficker, texting with him from the United States on a burner phone given to her by OUR. Righter told VICE News that she came to believe that OUR’s methods were “creating a market” for trafficking victims; the man did not appear to have access to trafficked women or underage girls, and she feared that asking him to find young women for a party would lead to women or girls being trafficked who had not been previously.
OUR has previously denied creating demand for trafficking victims.
Disquieted by this experience, Righter returned to the United States and resolved to only remain involved with OUR if she could work on a team that was not headed by Ballard. That led to her attending a training at a CrossFit gym owned by OUR, where she was kneed in the head during a grappling exercise where operators were instructed to dive for a fake knife at the center of the mat. Cooper took her to a hospital, and OUR eventually paid medical bills resulting from the accident.
The description of events in the lawsuit mirrors what Righter has previously described to VICE News; the suit also accuses OUR of being reckless with the safety and wellbeing of its operators, who were central to the group’s public image and fundraising success.
“It became very evident to Plaintiff that OUR only focused on allowing its celebrity founder, defendant Tim Ballard, to live the lavish lifestyle of a wealthy sex tourist and sexually manipulate and abuse employees, contractors, and volunteers under the guise of saving children by implementing the COUPLES RUSE,” one section of the suit reads. “OUR’s focus to be worshiped as ‘celebrity heroes’ was so intense that it overrode concerns about the safety and welfare of the very operators at the center of OUR’s fundraising.”
The allegations against Ballard and OUR have also widened into increased scrutiny of one of their most high-profile allies, Sean Reyes, Utah’s attorney general. Reyes has participated in undercover OUR missions, defended the group’s use of intelligence from a psychic medium named Janet Russon, and listed himself on LinkedIn as a producer of Sound of Freedom, the heavily-fictionalized box office hit based on Ballard’s supposed exploits. State legislators have commissioned an audit into, among other things, whether the relationship between Ballard and Reyes compromised the latter’s judgment or led to the inappropriate use of state resources. Legislators have suggested that the audit could lead to Reyes’ impeachment.
To add to Ballard’s woes, the Salt Lake Tribune reported last week that Ballard is also under criminal investigation in Lindon, Utah, after one of the women suing him filed a police report there. In response, Ken Krogue, the president of the SPEAR Fund, a new anti-trafficking group where Ballard is identified as a “senior adviser,” issued a statement attempting to cast doubt on whether the criminal investigation is real. (It is, according to records on which the Tribune reported and which VICE News independently reviewed after filing a public-records request with Lindon police.) The statement reads, in full:
We have not been informed of a complaint by any of the women to law-enforcement, nor have we been contacted by any law enforcement agency.
The fact that a purported criminal complaint has been leaked to the media is even further evidence of the true intent behind this charade. It is designed to stir up a media frenzy, to harm the reputation of Mr. Ballard, and to impede his and others’ efforts to fight the sex trafficking industry.
A private citizen has no authority to initiate a criminal investigation or prosecution. While any citizen can submit a complaint to law-enforcement, it is up to law-enforcement to determine whether or not to investigate, and then it is up to prosecutors to determine whether or not to prosecute. The fact that one or more of the women suddenly supposedly realized that they were victimized by a crime raises questions as to their credibility and intentions that will be answered in the pending litigation.”
In the midst of a widening gyre of lawsuits and investigations, Ballard appears to be quietly attempting to rehabilitate his image. Over the weekend, he launched the second season of The Tim Ballard Podcast, rebranding it as a joint venture with his wife Katherine. In the episode, the two do not discuss the allegations against Ballard, but do discuss the discomfort Katherine felt with what she understood his undercover missions required her husband to do.