Citing Sean Reyes’ relationship with Tim Ballard, lawmakers green light audit of Utah Attorney General’s Office
Lawmakers are concerned about ‘the governance and oversight of the AG’s Office’
A legislative audit is headed for the office of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who faces increasing scrutiny for his relationship with embattled anti-trafficking activist Tim Ballard.
On Monday, a bipartisan group of 26 lawmakers signed on to a request to audit the office. And on Tuesday, the Legislative Audit Committee unanimously voted to green light the investigation.
According to the letter, signed by six Democrats and 20 Republicans, lawmakers are concerned about “the governance and oversight of the AG’s Office” and ask auditors to investigate Reyes’ relationship with Ballard and whether it impaired the state’s top law enforcement officer.
Reyes and Ballard’s relationship dates back years, with Reyes participating in a mission with Operation Underground Railroad in 2014, the anti-trafficking organization Ballard founded. According to his LinkedIn page, Reyes was also an associate producer of “Sound of Freedom,” a movie based on Ballard’s rescue missions.
Ballard is now facing multiple allegations of sexual assault in two separate lawsuits — one of the complaints accuses Reyes of intimidating witnesses on behalf of Ballard and hindering a now-closed Davis County Attorney’s Office investigation into Operation Underground Railroad. Reyes’ office denies those claims.
However, lawmakers state that their concerns over the Attorney General’s Office came “well before any allegations came to light raising suspicion into the relationship” of Reyes and Ballard.
“Given the important role that the AG plays in upholding the constitutions of the United States and the State of Utah, enforcing the law, and protecting the interests of the State of Utah and its people, environment, and resources we believe that a Legislative Audit is warranted,” the letter reads.
The lawmakers ask auditors to specifically investigate four areas:
- The governance of the office, and how “legal and administrative decisions are presented, deliberated, approved and documented.”
- Travel policies and practices of the office to determine whether “travel is appropriate and documented in accordance with policies and rules.”
- The culture of the office and whether staff think it’s run with efficiency and effectiveness.
- The relationship between Ballard, Reyes, Operation Underground Railroad and “The Sound of Freedom” and whether it involved state resources, “engagement by the AG with outside prosecutors” or “impaired the impartial judgement of prosecutorial discretion of the AG.”
In a statement, the Attorney General’s Office said it welcomes “working with legislative auditors to get them the information they seek.”
“We are confident they will see what we already know: the Office of the Utah Attorney General’s Office does great work. We are proud of our personnel, leadership, and the cases we file to protect the people of Utah,” the statement reads.
The audit comes as some lawmakers want to change the Utah Attorney General from an elected position to an appointed one. Utah Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, said he plans to open a bill file this upcoming session.
The change would require a constitutional amendment. The resolution would need a two-thirds vote from the legislature, then the amendment would go before Utah voters during a general election.
House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, who is poised to become the new House speaker, said Reyes is a friend but “it’s our duty to hold other areas of government accountable. That’s done through the audit process.”
Schultz said he has “full faith that as we go through this process, everything will work out just fine.” He said there have been “conversations with Reyes himself....and he’s fully supportive and wants to work together.”
Looking at the issues surrounding Operation Underground Railroad is “fair. I think we’re looking more broadly and holistically at everything,” Schultz said “Just like most other state agencies understand, that’s part of the role the Legislature has. So they respect that.”
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche