San Diego

Anti-Trafficking Group ‘Saved In America' Losing Support

The organization was pulled off of a $2 million San Diego County plan to run a group home for sexually exploited minors. And the Lynch Foundation for Children, a key player in the local fight against sex trafficking, says it has cut ties with the group

San Diego-based “Saved In America” has made dozens of television appearances over the years, touting its contributions in the fight against child sex trafficking.

With the help of former Navy SEALs and police officers, the group says it assists law enforcement and parents in locating missing or exploited children. 

“Child Saved, Not Sold” is the group’s mission statement. 

But now, Saved In America is losing some key support.

The organization was pulled off of a $2 million San Diego County plan to run a group home for sexually exploited minors. And the Lynch Foundation for Children, a key player in the local fight against sex trafficking, said it has cut ties with the organization.

This, while allegations have been raised about the organization’s founder and Executive Director Joseph Travers and the rescue statistics used by the organization when seeking funding. 

On its website, Saved In America states it has rescued 223 children since 2014 by gathering “intelligence and evidence to locate and identify missing children and trafficked victims, violent pedophiles (pimps), and trafficking locations.” The group says it acts as a liaison between local and federal law enforcement. 

“For victims of sexual exploitation, [Saved In America] assists in procuring legal representation, safe housing, and rehabilitative therapy,” the website states. 

Saved In America founder Joseph Travers interviewing with NBC Nightly News on April 15, 2018.

The National Christian Information Center Inc., a nonprofit religious corporation does business as Saved In America, according to its state incorporation filing.

To carry out its services, Saved In America relies on grants and donations. For years, some of that financial assistance has come from taxpayers, through the San Diego County Supervisors. 

Documents show in 2017, District 3 Supervisor Kristen Gaspar gave the group $30,000 and the following year, then District 5 Supervisor Bill Horn authorized a grant for $40,000. The money would be used for surveillance and safety equipment.  

Then in June 2019, Saved In America, alongside Gaspar, debuted a new, mobile command center stocked with state of the art technology. 

The 37-foot RV was advertised as a necessary tool to save children caught in the world of sex trafficking. 

The Saved In America "mobile command center" was unveiled at a news conference on June 17, 2019.

“We’re doing multiple recoveries at the same time so we needed one central point of communication and a central point to put our electronic gear,” Joseph Travers told NBC 7. 

Taxpayers, through County Supervisors Gaspar, Horn, Ron Roberts, and Greg Cox, contributed more than $240,000 for the RV, including a custom $10,000 paint job with Saved In America’s branding on the side, according to its grant application

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According to the group's grant application, a "custom logo/paint" on the RV was listed as costing $10,000.

On top of the RV, emails between county employees show Travers was looking for more county support. 

On June 25, at a San Diego County Board of Supervisors meeting, a plan was pitched by Supervisor Gaspar to have Saved In America run a $2 million safe group home for sexually exploited minors. The money would come from the county’s general fund. 

“Our region is grappling with the critical need for all types of housing opportunities for our most vulnerable residents... safe, emergency housing for sexually exploited minors,” Gaspar told her fellow supervisors. 

Emails obtained by NBC 7 show Travers had been suggesting locations for the group home project months before the June 25 meeting. 

Supervisors unanimously approved the plan that originally called for Saved In America to operate the group home once it was built, according to a county spokesman. 

But that all changed Oct. 16 when the County’s Chief Adminstrative Office (CAO) said Saved In America would no longer be part of the plan. 

In a letter to county staff, CAO Helen Robbins-Meyer said the county needed to go back and find a "qualified entity" to provide the safe house services. Robbins-Meyer wrote her office came to the conclusion after, "the county performed additional due diligence on the proposed program." 

On Oct. 24, an attorney representing Saved In America told NBC 7 that they had only recently learned about the county’s decision and had no comment about the plan’s change. 

Saved in America has also lost another key supporter. 

The Lynch Foundation for Children, a key player since 1989 in the local fight against sex trafficking told NBC 7 it severed ties with the organization. In the past, Saved In America attributed the Lynch Foundation as helping the group raise money for its operations. 

"We ended ties with SIA earlier this year,” said founder and chairman William Lynch. “We are looking into recent reports of questionable statistics and the background of the executive director of Saved In America." 

In September, Private Investigator Chris Reynolds released a report that questioned the rescue statistics used by Saved In America and made allegations about founder Joseph Travers’ expertise. Through his attorneys, Travers has called the report “defamatory” and has filed a lawsuit against Reynolds over the report’s release. 

Reynolds told NBC 7 he stands by his report. 

Since Oct. 16, NBC 7 Investigates has repeatedly requested a recorded interview or on-the-record meeting with Joseph Travers to discuss Saved In America’s operations, including how it classifies rescued children and the costs behind each rescue. 

But after an Oct. 22 meeting was canceled by Travers’ associates, Steven Giammichele, an attorney representing the organization wrote in a letter to NBC 7 that they would not be available to answer questions until on or after November 11. 

“Due to the volunteers having full-time work schedules outside of [Saved In America], there is simply insufficient staffing to accommodate your requests sooner than that time.” 

Saved In America’s third-annual fundraising dinner is scheduled for November 7.

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