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Arizona official seeks trial delay in human trafficking case

Paul Petersen (file)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — The Arizona official who is accused of running an adoption-fraud scheme involving smuggling women from a country in the Pacific asked an Arkansas court to delay his trial for 10 months, arguing the defense has already received hundreds of documents related to charges.

Prosecutors say Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen paid pregnant women from the Marshall Islands, a string of islands about 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) west of Hawaii, to give up their babies for adoption in the U.S. He faces a total of 62 charges in Arkansas, Arizona and Utah.

Petersen, 44, is free on separate bonds in the different states but must wear a GPS monitoring device per a federal court order.

On Monday, his defense filed a motion asking the U.S. District Court in Fayetteville to push the adoption attorney’s trial from Dec. 9 to October, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

“As this court is aware, defendant not only faces criminal allegations in this court, but he has also been indicted by the state of Arizona and the state of Utah,” the motion said.

Petersen’s defense has already received 100,000 sets of documents in the related cases and more are expected, according to the motion.

“Additionally, the defense investigation into this matter will literally require work in at least three separate states and potentially a foreign nation, the Republic of Marshall Islands,” the motion said.

U.S. Attorney Duane “Dak” Kees estimated that Petersen’s agency oversaw about 30 such adoptions a year or more in Arkansas beginning in 2014 or earlier. Petersen also organized such adoptions in Arizona and Utah, according to state charges in those jurisdictions.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors last month suspended Petersen from his post as county assessor for 120 days. Petersen, a Republican, is contesting his suspension from the $77,000-a-year job he was elected to in 2016.

He’s set to appear in court on Nov. 1 in Salt Lake City and Nov. 5 in Phoenix.