MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz. – A public official in Arizona has been accused of illegally selling children through adoption agencies. And even though he’s been arrested and faces serious felony charges, he still has a job… and no one is able to change that.
Assessor Paul Petersen, a city official in Arizona, was suspended Monday after he was charged with allegedly running a human smuggling scheme that transported women who were pregnant from the Marshall Islands over to the United States in order to give birth here and then paid the women to give up their children for adoption as a means to profit off said exploit.
Leaders in Arizona’s most populous county suspended Assessor Petersen without pay for 120 days after the alleged scandal surfaced, eventually culminating in his arrest. What’s even more intriguing is that the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors doesn’t have the power to actually remove him from the elected position that he holds.
Petersen, who is currently in federal custody, has so far refused to resign from his office since his arrest on October 8 of this year. His lawyer, Kurt Altman, said Petersen plans to fight to keep the $77,000-a-year job he was last elected to in 2016.
A Republican elected official in AZ, Paul Petersen, ran a human smuggling scheme.
“Make no mistake: this case is the purest form of human trafficking.”
He was suspended without pay for 120 days.
— Kimberley Johnson (@AuthorKimberley) October 29, 2019
According to records, Petersen has been indicted in federal court in Arkansas and was also charged in Arizona and Utah with crimes pertaining to the alleged smuggling and adoption ordeal that include human smuggling, sale of a child, fraud, forgery and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Per the investigation, the criminal case spans approximately three years and involves some 75 adoptions, authorities said, with about 30 adoptions pending in three various states.
The charges that were cited on the indictment stem from Petersen being accused of illegally compensating women from the Marshall Islands to have their children here in the United States and then give them up for adoption. Apparently, the women were crowded into sporadically located homes and properties owned or rented by Petersen, sometimes with little to no prenatal care, according to court documents.
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During the course of the alleged pay-to-play adoption scheme, Petersen would charge hopeful recipients to the tune of $25,000 to $40,000 per adoption, prosecutors said. Considering that the average, legal adoption, can cost would-be-parents anywhere from $20,000-$50,000 while enduring a lengthy period of wait, background checks, and that 54% of the adoption pool per the ASPE carries “special health care needs”; an expedited adoption of a healthy, newborn can be appealing.
Evidence linking Petersen to the various geos alleged in the scheme come from a completed mission in the Marshall Islands, which is a collection of islets and islands in the eastern Pacific, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He later worked in the islands and the U.S. on behalf of an international adoption agency before going to law school and becoming an adoption attorney.
The Board of Supervisors said Monday that Arizona law allows it to suspend Petersen for “neglect of duty,” citing his absence from the office during his incarceration and limited access to phone and email. However, Petersen’s attorney said the law allowing elected officials to be suspended may be unconstitutional.
He allegedly recruited pregnant women from the Marshall Islands, arranged for them to fly to Utah, and matched them with adoptive families. https://t.co/67Coa4E3NR
— VICE News (@vicenews) October 29, 2019
An examination of Petersen’s office during the investigation revealed files from his adoption business on his county computer, which can’t be used for personal business, the supervisors said. The audit also exhibited numerous calls made from Petersen’s desk phone or county-provided cellphone to Arkansas, Jamaica and the Philippines over the past six years and about 30 emails associated to adoptions since Petersen became assessor in 2013.
Board Chairman Bill Gates said the supervisors will look to appoint someone to fill Petersen’s position while the suspension is in effect. Petersen is permitted to request a hearing to defend himself, but at this time there are no other updates with regard to the charges or state of the investigation.