Arizona official charged in Marshall Islands adoption scheme

An Arizona elected official has been charged with human smuggling in an adoption fraud scheme that introduced dozens of pregnant girls from the Marshall Islands to the U.S. to surrender their kids for adoption, courtroom information present.

Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen was charged in Utah, Arizona and Arkansas with counts together with human smuggling, sale of a kid, fraud, forgery and conspiracy to commit cash laundering.

The fees span about three years and contain some 75 adoptions. The adoptions will not be undone as a result of the adoptive mother and father are thought-about victims together with the ladies, authorities stated.

When investigators raided Petersen’s properties late Tuesday in a Phoenix suburb, they discovered eight pregnant Marshallese girls, stated Col. Frank Milstead, head of the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

In Utah, a number of extra Marshallese girls are ready to offer beginning now and state officers have obtained extra calls about different potential victims, stated Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes.

“The commoditization of kids is solely evil,” Reyes stated.

Petersen’s lawyer, Matthew Long, defended his consumer’s actions throughout a Tuesday courtroom listening to in Phoenix as “correct enterprise practices” and stated they disagreed with the allegations.

Long additionally disputed the money bond of $500,000, saying his consumer had sturdy ties to his hometown of Mesa, Arizona, and was not a flight danger. Long stated Petersen has recognized for weeks that he is been below investigation.

Petersen served a two-year mission within the Marshall Islands for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Reyes stated. He was later recruited by a world adoption company whereas in regulation faculty due to his fluency in Marshallese, based on a 2013 Phoenix Business Journal story.

Prosecutors say Petersen used associates primarily based within the Marshall Islands to recruit pregnant girls by providing lots of them $10,000 every to surrender their infants for adoption within the U.S. Petersen would pay for the ladies to journey to the U.S. days or months earlier than giving beginning and stay in a house that he owned till delivering the infant, based on the courtroom information.

They say Petersen employs Marshallese girls in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas who assist translate, purchase meals and cellphones for the moms, apply for Medicaid advantages, transport girls to medical appointments and notarize authorized paperwork.

The pregnant girls had been usually crammed within the houses, based on authorities. One adoptive household visited a Utah residence the place they noticed 15 pregnant girls sleeping on mattresses on a naked ground in what they described as a “child mill,” based on charging paperwork.

It wasn’t unusual to discover a dozen Marshallese moms on the verge of giving beginning in a single home northwest Arkansas, stated Duane Kees, the U.S. lawyer for the western district of Arkansas.

“Many of those moms described their ordeal as being handled like property,” Kees stated at a information convention Wednesday. “Make no mistake: this case is the purest type of human trafficking.”

After giving beginning, the ladies would then be flown again to the Marshall Islands or to a different U.S. state, mostly Arkansas, which has one the biggest concentrations of Marshallese immigrants within the U.S., authorities stated.

Petersen charged $25,000-$40,000 per adoption and introduced in about $2.7 million right into a checking account he gave households for adoption charges in lower than two years, based on Utah courtroom paperwork.

The Utah investigation began with a name to a human-trafficking tip line in October 2017. Staff at a number of hospitals within the Salt Lake City space who would finally report an “inflow” of ladies from the Marshall Islands giving beginning and placing their infants up for adoption.

The moms had been accompanied by the identical girl, who advised one social employee that she goes to the Marshall Islands to “discover pregnant girls to undertake their infants out.”

Authorities allege the scheme defrauded Arizona’s Medicaid system of $800,000 as a result of the ladies had no intention of remaining within the state after they utilized for protection.

Under a compact between the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Marshallese residents can enter the U.S. and work with no visa, except they’re touring for the aim of adoption, based on authorities.

Petersen has confronted troubles together with his adoption practices previously. An Arizona juvenile courtroom choose in 2016 denied a pair’s request to undertake a baby born to a Marshallese girl as a result of he feared the association arrange by Petersen had violated Marshallese regulation. A courtroom of appeals reversed the choice, saying no Marshallese approval was needed.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich stated adoptive mother and father who went via Petersen’s company don’t have anything to fret about.

“No one’s going to return and redo adoptions or any of that type of stuff,” Brnovich stated.


Associated Press writers Lindsay Whitehurst and Morgan Smith in Salt Lake City, Astrid Galvan in Phoenix, Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this report.

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