The Davis County Attorney’s Office has closed its investigation of Operation Underground Railroad and will not pursue any potential charges related to the organization, according to a declination statement obtained by the Deseret News. 

The end of the investigation, dated March 28, 2023, in the document, marks roughly 212 years since Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings first publicly confirmed that he was looking into the Utah-based nonprofit which says it works with local law enforcement to combat child sex trafficking. 

Tim Ballard, the founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, says the investigation harmed the organization’s reputation. 

The reviewed charges by Rawlings’ office included communications fraud, witness tampering and retaliation against a witness, victim or informant, according to a declination statement which Rawlings confirmed was authentic.

The determination to close the investigation came after Rawlings’ office received and reviewed financial audits of Operation Underground Railroad and information supplied by law enforcement agencies including the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the document says.

Rawlings’ office also took into account details provided by Operation Underground Railroad about the organization’s domestic and international initiatives and “the current prosecutorial priorities of the Davis County Attorney’s Office” in making the decision, according to the document.

“In sum, the Davis County Attorney’s Office does not believe that the decision to pursue charges against O.U.R. or any individuals associated with O.U.R. is prudent,” the declination reads.

Rawlings’ investigation of Operation Underground Railroad was first made public in a Fox 13 news story published in October 2020.

The statement provided to Fox 13 by the Davis County Attorney’s Office did not specify the complaints being investigated. However, the Fox 13 article noted that a month before, Rawlings uploaded posts to Instagram warning his followers about anyone taking credit for the work of law enforcement officers. The posts did not name Operation Underground Railroad.

A few months after the Fox 13 story was published, Operation Underground Railroad began to face national media scrutiny, with the digital news outlet Vice World News reporting that “several people familiar with the investigation” had said potential charges could revolve around whether Operation Underground Railroad and its founder had misled donors and the public about the nature of its work and rescue operations. At the time, an attorney for Operation Underground Railroad told Vice “O.U.R. will cooperate fully with any official inquiry into its operations.

Ballard’s bio states that prior to starting Operation Underground Railroad in 2013, he was an agent at the Department of Homeland Security for 12 years, where he investigated crimes against children. According to the organization’s website, Operation Underground Railroad “exist(s) to rescue children from sex trafficking and sexual exploitation” and to “provide critical resources to law enforcement and preventative efforts that benefit at-risk children worldwide.”

“The Davis County investigation into our organization lasted nearly three years and —unfortunately — was made public when it never should have been,” Ballard said in a statement to the Deseret News. Operation Underground Railroad’s reputation, he said, “was dragged through the mud.”

In its first year, the nonprofit brought in nearly $1 million in donations, according to ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer. By 2015, that figure had multiplied to nearly $6 million and by 2019 had soared to $22 million. And in 2020, the most recent year nonprofit tax filings are made available by the IRS, the total revenue received by Operation Underground Railroad according to ProPublica was over $47 million.

Operation Underground Railroad has received attention from conservative media personalities, including Glenn Beck. Ballard also appeared alongside former President Donald Trump to argue for the building of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ballard claims the nonprofit has operated with integrity. “We feel the conclusion of this investigation, as well as an extensive, independent third party audit, helped to reinforce that point,” Ballard said.

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to Tim Ballard as the former CEO of Operation Underground Railroad. He is the current CEO.