Operation Underground Railroad Child-Rescue Missions Were Based on Psychic Intelligence

Janet Russon, a psychic medium from Utah, was a central source of “intelligence” for OUR, leading to at least one failed mission and no evident rescues of missing children. 
Russon and Ballard in the back of a car.
Internal footage from OUR, released to Vice News through a public records request, shows Russon and Tim Ballard riding in the back of a car during a mission.

It was a tense day in February 2016 for Tim Ballard and operatives working for Operation Underground Railroad, the anti-human trafficking group he founded. They were on what would prove to be a bumbling and ineffective mission to save a trafficked child Ballard believed was being held in a village on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 


This wasn’t just any mission, however. The child they were searching for was Gardy Mardy, a missing Haitian boy whose abduction Ballard has portrayed as “the case that led us to found OUR.” Joining him and his team of elite operatives was Janet Russon—a psychic medium from Utah whose supposed visions were guiding the mission.

According to documents from a now-closed criminal investigation into Ballard and OUR obtained by VICE News through a public-records request, video shot by a crew hired by OUR captured Russon talking with Gardy’s father, Guesno Mardy. In the conversation, Russon seemed to credit herself with locating Gardy. She assured him that his son was nearby, and that without her visions, he never would have been found. 

“No way you would have found this place, no way,” she proclaimed, according to a transcript of the conversation written by a criminal investigator working on a joint investigation between the FBI and the Davis County Attorney’s Office. 

“Guesno, buddy,” Ballard said during the conversation. “He’s here. We’re gonna get him.” 

In fact, Gardy was not found that day, or any day since. There is no evidence to suggest that he was ever in the village where Russon’s visions led OUR and his hopeful father. Dave Lopez, a former head of OUR’s “ops team” who oversaw the organization’s work in Haiti, told an FBI special agent and a Davis County investigator in October 2020 that Russon’s visions were “the only form of intelligence they were using to locate Gardy.” As far as he knew, he said, OUR had no intelligence even suggesting Gardy was alive apart from what was provided by Russon. This was Ballard’s “most guarded secret,” Lopez told the FBI. 


Ballard’s secret has been out for two years now: Ex-OUR “operators,” or people sent on paramilitary missions with the organization in foreign countries, told VICE News in 2021 that Russon’s supposed psychic abilities were heavily relied on by Ballard and OUR to plan and carry out missions. Now, though, the investigative files reveal for the first time the level of influence Russon had within the organization, how much she was paid for her services, and how little intelligence there was to back up some of the missions conducted beyond her word—that of a Utah psychic who claimed to be able to communicate with the prophet Nephi, a figure from the Book of Mormon who has been dead for thousands of years.

(OUR provided a statement about Russon’s work, which is reprinted in full below. Tim Ballard did not respond to a request for comment. In a brief phone call, Russon declined to comment when asked about each claim made in this story, telling a reporter, “We just won’t have a conversation. Thank you so much for the call.” She previously told VICE News that she had signed an NDA and was unable to answer questions about OUR.) 

An investigator wrote in the documents that they had learned that Russon was “being paid a monthly consultant fee of approximately $5,000 with an hourly/operational readings contract of approximately $1,560” by OUR, and that the group relied on her visions to do operational planning for missions. 


Nor were mission planning or psychic visions the end of Russon’s association with OUR or other entities in the child-rescue space. Subsequently, she was named as the executive director of Children Need Families, a for-profit company started by Ballard’s wife Katherine, which said it provided grants to families seeking to adopt children. At another point, while she served on the board of directors of another organization, she identified herself as OUR’s “director of strategic alliances,” a description which did not mention her purported psychic abilities. (The organization, Rod’s Heroes, which promotes adoption for children with special needs, did not respond to a request for comment from VICE News.) 

Janet Russon bio.

OUR provided the following statement:

Janet Russon worked as a full-time executive director for the Children Need Families program for the last two years with a starting salary of $122,000 per year and a final salary of $125,000 per year. She left O.U.R. shortly after Mr. Ballard’s departure. None of her work with CNF had any association with her self-proclaimed psychic abilities. For any question about her alleged psychic abilities, services rendered to Mr. Ballard, or payments for those services, please ask Ms. Russon or Mr. Ballard.

Ballard left OUR this summer following an internal investigation into sexual misconduct allegations made against him. Three weeks later, he left the Nazarene Fund, a sister organization to OUR founded by conservative commentator Glenn Beck. The Nazarene Fund told Vice News in a statement, “There were no concerns or suspicion of wrongdoing by Tim Ballard regarding his work at The Nazarene Fund.”  


OUR, under Ballard, stressed its sophisticated intelligence gathering and military-style raid-and-rescue tactics. As VICE News previously reported, Davis county attorney Troy Rawlings, who opened the investigation into OUR, wrote in an email, “Donors are not made aware that Nephi, via Mr. [sic] Russon, is the key piece of O.U.R. Operational Intelligence.” (Rawlings wrote that email to Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, an OUR ally who has previously gone on missions with the group.) 

The centrality of Russon to OUR missions is clearly illustrated in the files. One is an investigator’s description of a video apparently taken, to go by the date of a file, ahead of the disastrous mission to find Gardy. Ballard is speaking to a group of men; he assures them that he’s speaking regularly with M. Russell Ballard, a powerful and revered figure in the LDS Church to whom he is not related, about “the whole process and all these miracles,” and that he’s been given a blessing by the apostle. 

In response, one of OUR’s operators, whom VICE News is not naming because he could not be reached for comment, says, “This is the time that we're supposed to be here, specifically, this week. And the Lord doesn't just give one person that, that answer, it's usually through a few people and the Lord told me to call Janet as soon as I got out of the temple."


Two former OUR insiders told investigators that Russon and her psychic visions were a key part of OUR. They were Lopez, a former Navy SEAL who worked with the group on overseas missions and oversaw OUR operations in Haiti, and a former director of development whose name VICE News is withholding at her request. Lopez told investigators that Russon identified specific locations in Haiti where the missing boy was said to be; the former development director added that Russon was solely vouched for by Ballard, who in her telling intimated that M. Russell Ballard was aware that her visions guided OUR’s work.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement to Vice News last week, strongly rebuking Tim Ballard for using Elder Ballard’s name, saying Tim Ballard had “betrayed their friendship” through “the unauthorized use of President Ballard’s name for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage and activity regarded as morally unacceptable.” The church did not specify what “morally unacceptable” behavior it was referring to.) 

In February 2016, a car carrying Russon, Ballard, and Guesno Mardy circulated through the village as OUR continued its quest for Gardy. As they drove, Russon began to cry, according to a summary of the audio written by an investigator. “Your mom is loud, your mom is clear,” Russon told Guesno Mardy, implying that the woman’s departed spirit was guiding her. Russon subsequently claimed that she was hearing a “reading” from Guesno Mardy’s mother and sister, both of whom are apparently deceased. (A person close to the Mardy family told VICE News that Guesno does not wish to speak to the press at this time.) 

When the FBI and Davis County investigators began their criminal investigation into OUR—which was ultimately closed with no charges filed—Russon’s role in the organization was one of the many issues they looked into. At one point, Davis County, Utah attorney Troy Rawlings emailed other agencies participating in the investigation to say that, as he understood it, investigators had collected “10,000 pages” of Russon’s so-called readings. They indicated in more detail who exactly Russon was reaching out to in the Great Beyond: a deceased Mormon prophet. 

“Janet Russon talks to dead Mormon leaders,” Rawlings wrote. “Particularly a Mormon prophet from 600 BC named Nephi, to get intel on where to find Gardy Mardy in particular, but also with respect to a slew of other things.” 

Donors, Rawlings added, “are not made aware that Nephi, via Mr. Russon, is the key piece of O.U.R. Operational Intelligence.” 

It’s unclear what has become of Children Need Families since Tim Ballard left OUR following an internal investigation. At present, blog posts discussing it are still on the organization’s website, but a separate website, which listed Russon as its executive director, appears to have been taken down.