Maricopa County board upholds Assessor Paul Petersen's suspension
PHOENIX - The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has voted to uphold Assessor Paul Petersen's suspension, who's accused of directing an international human smuggling scheme.
Petersen, a Republican, is challenging his suspension from his position determining the value of millions of business and residential properties for tax purposes. He says the county failed to prove that he neglected his duties and lacks authority to remove him from office.
Prosecutors allege Petersen, who ran an adoption attorney in addition to his elected position, paid women from the Marshall Islands to give their babies for adoption by American families. He's pleaded not guilty in Arizona and Arkansas to charges that include human smuggling and fraud. He has not yet entered a plea in Utah on similar charges.
The futures of eight pregnant Marshallese women staying at a Mesa apartment are up in the air. Prosecutors say Petersen was to pay them each $10,000 to put their newborns up for adoption.
A Phoenix pastor says his church has raised $2,000 so far to go toward airfare for those who want to return to the Marshall Islands.
One American family reportedly already paid Petersen $30,000 to adopt one of the babies and has reached out to the pastor hoping to complete the adoption.
"At the end of the day, it is the birth mother that is going to be making the decision about whether the adoption plan goes forward," said Rita Meiser, adoption attorney. "Those women have an absolute right to either stay in the United States and parent them or return to the Marshall Islands."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Stay with FOX 10 Phoenix for updates.