Ex-Christian radio host gets 40 years for child sex crimes
John Baylo, a Christian radio host, was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison for first-degree criminal sexual conduct. VPC
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Christian radio host John Balyo operated beneath the radar as a married family man, a wedding photographer, a volunteer with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, camp counselor and an overseas mission volunteer with children.
Underneath the surface, the expectant father was “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” feeding a morbid and sadistic fascination with children, collecting pedophilic materials, rehearsing a sexual kidnapping fantasy with a child-sized mannequin and meeting clandestinely in hotel rooms with young boys in bondage.
The secret life of the 36-year-old Caledonia man was laid bare Thursday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids in an emotional sentencing hearing that all but assures Balyo will be an old man when he gets out of prison.
He’ll serve 40 years in federal prison — on top of a lengthy sentence handed down last month in Calhoun County for first-degree criminal sexual conduct. His wife of seven months was granted a divorce just three weeks ago. And Balyo’s assets will go to support his unborn child, who is due in February or March.
“I’m having a lot of trouble trying to reconcile two people in the orange jumpsuit before me,” Judge Robert Holmes Bell told Balyo during the sentencing hearing. “There’s the Christian man with a reputation as a value-driven individual. But there is something else going on that is troubling … filthy, obscene. I don’t get it. I don’t get where you went off.”
Bell ordered Balyo to serve 25 years for sexual exploitation of a child and 15 years for possession of child pornography, with the terms to run consecutive.
He also asked Balyo to write him at least once a year. “Don’t whitewash me,” said Bell, father of bestselling Christian author and Pastor Rob Bell. “I want to know what books you’re reading and what you’re doing to help other people.”
Balyo was sentenced in November to between 25 and 50 years in state prison for first-degree criminal sexual conduct for sexually assaulting the same boy last May at a Battle Creek motel. The assault took place two weeks after Balyo’s April 25 wedding.
Bell urged Balyo to make the most of his new life in prison, now that his former life as a respected pillar of the community has slipped away.
“Peel back layers of your own heart and your own soul,” he advised.
Department of Homeland Security Investigations Agent Marlon Miller said Balyo’s lengthy prison sentence “marks an end to a case that tore at the very fabric of this community.”
“While no amount of jail time can adequately punish individuals involved in this type of depraved activity, my sincere hope is that the conclusion of this case can begin the healing process for all of those affected,” he said.
The lengthy prison terms were almost a foregone conclusion. More unnerving is the depths of depravity lurking beneath the surface of a man prosecutors say had the facade of a law-abiding, charitable, upstanding citizen. According to court records:
• Balyo kept a collection of children’s obituaries and articles on the infamous BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) serial killer.
• He kept news clippings relating to the kidnapping, death and sexual abuse of children.
• He had notebook paper that contained numerous boys’ names on it and phrases like “swimming,” “photo shoot,” “sleeping/napping,” “strapped down,” “boy/cub scout,” “headlock,” “abuse” and “swim lessons.”
• He kept photos of nude children in his storage unit, including images from a known child pornography series.
• He had a bondage kit that held rolls of duct tape, four pairs of handcuffs, parachute cord, nylon rope, 107 zip ties, a set of rubber gloves, two lengths of 18-inch chain and a padlock.
“No one ever reported any misgivings or indiscretions about Balyo. But he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tessa K. Hessmiller wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
“On the outside, he was a law-abiding, charitable, upstanding citizen. He was able to gain people’s trust, leading no one to suspect anything was amiss,” Hessmiller wrote.
“But underneath the surface, he was feeding a morbid and sadistic fascination with children, creating and accumulating pedophilic materials, rehearsing a sexual kidnapping fantasy with a gun and a child-sized mannequin and meeting clandestinely in hotel rooms with young boys in bondage. Balyo’s three meetings with (victim 1) resulted in sexual exploitation and degradation of a child in the most depraved ways.”
Online exchanges catch attention of police
A tip from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police last spring put Balyo on the radar of federal prosecutors. The agency received two tips from concerned citizens indicating that a computer user with the name JAYBOY33 appeared to have access to boys.
The information was forwarded in June to the Grand Rapids office of DHS. The person behind the screen name JAYBOY33 was identified as 43-year-old Ronald Lee Moser of Battle Creek.
Investigators accessed images in seven albums controlled by Moser with names like “sexy boys,” “sweet body” and “sweet young.”
WCSG manager speaks out on the arrest of Christian radio show host John Balyo on first-degree criminal sex charges involving children. WZZM-TV, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Police searched Moser’s home on June 5, 2014, where they found Moser with the 12-year-old boy identified in several pornographic images. Investigators learned that Balyo and Moser met online in November 2013 after Moser posted child pornography to a website with the message, “Looking for people in and around Michigan that r in to kids.”
Balyo responded: “I am that person. LOL!”
Balyo told Moser he was into “boys 6-13ish. I like them wearing very little, but especially barefoot. Also into some bondage.”
Balyo arranged to meet Moser in person and Moser brought the 12-year-old victim to a hotel in Kalamazoo on April 19, 2014. The second meeting was at the same hotel in Kalamazoo on May 9, 2014. The third time was at a hotel in Battle Creek on May 17, 2014.
All three times, Balyo paid for the room, took pornographic photos of the boy, engaged in sexual acts with the boy and watched Moser engage in sexual acts with the victim and paid the victim after each meeting.
Moser was arrested on June 5, 2014. He pleaded guilty in August to possession of child pornography and sexual exploitation of a child. Moser faces between 15 and 30 years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 17 in Grand Rapids.
After Moser’s arrest, Balyo took several days off work. He took his Apple computer and a number of memory cards and thumb drives to a friend’s house. Investigators discovered Balyo’s involvement with Moser and worked to identify him.
A secret life exposed
Balyo was arrested June 20 while attending a Christian music concert in Gaylord. Police seized his home computer, finding images of child pornography he produced, including those of the 12-year-old boy from the hotels. On a memory card, investigators found a number of digital photographs depicting a teenage boy in bondage, but not nude. Homeland Security Investigations agents three weeks ago spoke with the person identified in the images.
The boy, now 22, stated he met Balyo on a website in October 2008 when he was a 16-year-old high school student. They shared an interest in bondage and met once at a hotel. Balyo used rope, handcuffs, a blindfold, and a ball gag to tie him up in different positions inside the hotel and took pictures.
In a storage unit near Rockford, investigators found photos of nude children and a bondage kit that held rolls of duct tape, four pairs of handcuffs, parachute cord, nylon rope, 107 zip ties, a set of rubber gloves, two lengths of 18-inch chain and a padlock.
“This was the bondage kit he brought with him to the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek hotels to sexually assault and pornographically photograph the 12-year-old victim,” Hessmiller, the assistant U.S. Attorney, wrote.
Balyo was fired from his job as morning host at WCSG, a Christian station operated by Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids. His wife, Bethany Colleen Balyo, on July 11 filed for divorce in Kent County Circuit Court. The expedited divorce was approved Nov. 18 by Kent County Circuit Judge Kathleen Feeney.
Under terms of the divorce, Bethany Balyo will have full custody of their unborn child, will get their home in Caledonia and collect proceeds from the sale of a home in Comstock Park.
Balyo’s statements of contrition ring hollow with the family of his 12-year-old victim. A letter written by the boy’s mother and read in court Thursday talks about the nightmares and behavioral problems the boy has suffered because of Balyo.
“He was molested and raped,” the mother wrote. “We live with memories that haunt us and hurt us.”