CENTURY CITY  (CBSLA.com)  —  Tim Ballard, who recently led a team to rescue young kids, some as young as 11, from international sex traffickers, spoke about the growing global issue Friday evening at a fundraising gala at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City.

He calls his mission: “Operation Underground Railroad.”

He and a team go to various countries pretending to be men looking for sex with underage boys and girls.

On one raid in Colombia about two weeks ago, Ballard and his team rescued 54 kids, males and females, ranging in age from 11-18. It was the group’s largest rescue mission to date, involving three cities in one evening.

That trip was documented by CBS News’ Elaine Quijano.

KCAL9’s Laurie Perez talked to Ballard, a native of La Canada, on Friday after the star-studded gala.

She found him to be a reluctant homegrown hero.

“It’s hard to celebrate too long when you recognize you gotta keep going; there’s more out there,” Ballard said.

Many more, according to Ballard.

“This is the most significant problem, plague I call it, on Earth,” he says.

Ballard, a former CIA and Homeland Security Agent, in January formed the nonprofit group Operation Underground Railroad.

He says in 10 months, the group has rescued more than 230 child-sex slaves around the world.

His jump team, including former Special Operations and Navy Seals, mingled with guests at the fundraising gala. They’ve joined to help Ballard fix a very public problem in ways the federal government can’t.

“There’s a lot of rules and policies, there’s a lot of jurisdictional restraints, if there’s no U.S. law that’s been violated, then there’s no cause legally for us as agents to go out,” Ballard explains.

Elizabeth Smart, now 27, was kidnapped and sexually abused at 14 and held by her captor for nine months before she was rescued.

The Elizabeth Smart Foundation, like Ballard’s, works to stop predatory crimes against children, and as far as away as these images from Columbia seem, she told the crowd you don’t have to look far to find trouble here at home.

She told the crowd that every child sex slave deserves a happily ever after.

“And more than just rescues and missions, I know better than anybody how it feels to be rescued,” she said.

Ballard has attracted Hollywood’s help and not only at fundraisers. “Walking Dead” star Laurie Holden worked on a raid in Cartagena.

All money raised Friday will fund more raids and missions. Ballard estimates rescues cost about $1,500 to $2,000 per child.

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