First child born since adoption fraud, human smuggling scheme involving Maricopa County Assessor

The first child has been born connected to a recently uncovered adoption scheme involving Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen.

The baby boy was born on Thursday in Arkansas and allowed to stay with his mother.

Paul Petersen is in federal custody accused of paying women from the Marshall Islands to enter into illegal adoptions in Arizona, Arkansas and Utah. Nearly 20 women are waiting to give birth on U.S. soil wondering what will happen next. 

"These women were treated in such a fashion that the only value they had was the commodity in their womb," said Josh Bryant, a non-profit attorney from Arkansas.

Josh Bryant is a non-profit attorney from Rogers, Arkansas where many of the mothers were brought to give birth. He represents some of the adoptive families.

"The vast majority of them have given every last penny they had to Mr. Petersen on the hopes of having a child and those hopes have been thrown into serious question," said Bryant. 

Paul Petersen's alleged scheme included finding women in the poverty-stricken Marshall Islands, promising them around $10,000 to give up their children. They were then brought to the U.S. to give birth, some found crammed into small apartments of up to four women in one room. Then the adoptive parents would pay Petersen up to $45,000 to adopt the children.

"You know the human capital that's been lost when you treat somebody with such indignity is obviously horrific," says Bryant. 

Now it's up to the legal system to sort through the mess.

The U.S. and Marshall Islands signed an agreement in 2003 not to allow these kinds of private adoptions in order to cut down on the exploitation of women.

Petersen has been involved in adoptions there since 2005 but is only facing charges dating back to 2015. He will reportedly be facing the federal charges in Arkansas. 

County supervisors are set to meet this coming week to figure out the next move, but for now, Petersen is still the County Assessor. 

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