PHOENIX - Officials with the Utah Attorney General's Office announced Tuesday night that Maricopa County Assessor Paul D. Petersen is accused of human smuggling and sale of a child.
In the statement, officials in Utah say Petersen was arrested in California, and accused him of running an illegal adoption scheme where he recruited, transported, and offered payment to pregnant women from the nation of Marshall Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean, to give their babies up for adoption in the United States.
Utah officials accuse Petersen of transporting over 40 pregnant female Marshallese into Utah over the past three years as part of the scheme, and said adoptions between the U.S. and Marshall Islands are prohibited by an agreement between the two countries, due to a long history of adoption-related exploitation in the Pacific island nation.
Officials in Utah said they worked closely with authorities in Arizona, Arkansas, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands in parallel investigations of the scheme. While officials in Arizona have yet to release a statement, FOX 10 did learn that officials with the Arizona Attorney General's Office filed 32 indictments against Petersen and another person named Lynwood Jennet, accusing them of conspiracy, fraudulent schemes and artifices, theft, fraudulent schemes and practices, and forgery.
The documents were dated October 7.
According to the indictment filed by Arizona officials, the Marshallese women were falsely represented as Arizona residents, in order to obtain medical services by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCS). After the women gave birth, Petersen and Jennet are accused of facilitating travels for the women to leave Arizona, and in several instances, the women returned directly to the Marshall Islands.
Raids were reportedly conducted against Petersen's home and office in Mesa.
On Petersen's law office website, he is described as having been a private adoption attorney for over 15 years. According to the County Assessor's Office website, Petersen was elected to the office in 2014 in a special election, and was elected to the office again in 2016.
Maricopa County Assessor Paul D. Petersen
Records maintained by the Maricopa County Recorder's Office show Petersen won about 70% of the vote in the November 2014 election, running against a Libertarian Party candidate. He was the only candidate in the 2016 election, winning about 98% of the vote that year.
Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Western District of Arkansas announce Tuesday night that a news conference on the matter will be held late Wednesday morning (Arizona time). Meanwhile, officials in Utah will also hold a news conference on Wednesday to discuss the matter.
The Attorney General's office says these are valid adoptions and the families are not the focus of the investigation.