Paul Petersen, an adoption lawyer and Maricopa County Assessor, has been charged with dozens of crimes for allegedly leading a human trafficking operation that smuggled pregnant women into the country from the Marshall Islands.
Authorities accuse of Petersen of bringing these Marshallese women into the U.S. where they would give birth to their children who would then be placed them up for adoption in the state of Utah. He faces 11 second and third-degree felonies in Utah, which include sale of a child, human smuggling, and communications fraud.
“The commercialization of children is illegal and the commoditization of children is simply evil,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said to reporters on Wednesday.
Petersen is charged with an additional 32 charges in his home state of Arizona, including fraud, forgery and theft. Prosecutors believe he committed Medicaid fraud to the tune of $800,000, as the women he smuggled into the country were unlawfully subsidized by the state. He has also been charged in Arkansas of crimes like conspiracy, wire fraud and mail fraud.
Petersen gained a foothold in the Marshall Islands due to his missionary work there with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to court records, he would offer pregnant women up to $10,000 to travel to the U.S. shortly before they were scheduled to give birth. Once they were there, he would house them until the babies were delivered.
His scam was apparently very lucrative, as court records indicate he would charge families between $25,000 and $40,000 to adopt a child and amassed $2.7 in a bank account over a two-year span. He is being held on a $500,000 bond while awaiting a court appearance on Oct. 15.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is calling upon Petersen to resign following the ghastly conspiracy charges lobbed against him.
“Due to the serious nature of these allegations and out of respect for the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office, each member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors calls for the resignation of County Assessor Paul Petersen,” the board said in an official statement.
“Petersen’s prompt resignation will ensure his legal issues don’t distract him from leading the County Assessor’s Office. The Board will continue to provide the necessary resources and leadership to the Assessor’s Office so the team can remain focused on providing excellent customer service to the residents of Maricopa County,” they added.
Before these charges surfaced, Peterson was considered a Republican politician in good standing, and a friend of former Gov. Jan Brewer.
“I do know him, and I knew his father, who was Arizona’s treasurer,” Brewer said during an appearance on a KTAR News radio show Wednesday afternoon. “And it’s just shocking and almost unbelievable that something of this magnitude showed up this morning on the news.”
“People in politics for some reason, people in business for some reason, they get offered an opportunity and the greed, the God-almighty dollar, steps in and takes over and that’s obviously what had happened here,” she added about her long-time colleague. “Surely he knew what he was doing was wrong.”
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