Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen resigns amidst human smuggling accusations
PHOENIX - Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen, who is accused of running a human smuggling operation that paid pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to give up their babies in the U.S., has resigned from his position.
On Tuesday afternoon, FOX 10 received a statement from Petersen via a spokesperson. Earlier on Tuesday, unnamed sources already claim that Peterson will announce his resignation.
In the statement, Petersen proclaims his innocence and blames members of the media and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors of presuming his guilt.
"Today, I reluctantly resign as Maricopa County Assessor. My focus now turns to defending the allegations against me. Those allegations will ultimately be resolved in a courtroom, where rules and the Constitution still matter," read a portion of the statement.
Petersen, who was paid $77,000 a year in his government job, won a 2014 special election to be assessor and was re-elected in 2016. His term was scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
On Wednesday, the board of supervisors voted to accept Petersen's resignation.
Last month, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted to uphold Petersen's suspension after he was charged in three states, Arizona, Arkansas and Utah, for an alleged international adoption scheme.
Thousands of files related to his adoption business were discovered on his government laptop, cementing the board's push to remove him. Content recovered on the laptop included text messages of pregnant women being threatened when they changed their minds about giving up their newborns.
Prosecutors say for several years, Petersen was paying women to come to the United States to give birth and give their babies up for adoption. He is also accused of using taxpayer money to help pay for their healthcare.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), Petersen completed a proselytizing mission in the Marshall Islands, a collection of atolls and islands in the eastern Pacific. Citizens of the Marshall Islands have been prohibited from traveling to the U.S. for adoption purposes since 2003.
Petersen's co-defendant, Lynwood Jennet, took a plea deal and is expected to testify against him in his upcoming trial. Petersen has pleaded not guilty to the charges in Arizona and Arkansas but has yet to enter a plea in Utah.
The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.