WATCH – ‘Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing’: Christian Radio Host, ‘Mission Volunteer,’ ‘Sheriff Volunteer,’ and ‘Family Man’ Gets 40 Years for Child Sex Crimes


John Balyo. (Photo: File image)
John Balyo.
(Photo: File image)

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.”

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John Hogan, WZZM-TV, Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek, Mich.

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