The elected assessor for Arizona’s largest county has been charged Tuesday with 11 felony offenses, including human smuggling, sale of a child, and communications fraud in an alleged adoption fraud scheme, according to an indictment from Attorney General Mark Brnovich.
Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen is accused of running a law practice in Mesa that recruited, transported, and offered payment to more than 40 pregnant women from Marshall Islands into Utah to give birth. Their babies are then put up for adoption with US parents. His website states that they charge $40,000 per adoption.
According to the indictment, aside from illegally obtaining Medicaid services for the women by falsely claiming they are residents of Arizona, Petersen is also suspected of having violated a compact that prohibits citizens of the Marshall Islands from traveling to the US for the sole purpose of adoption without a special visa.
The adoption lawyer licensed in Utah and Arizona has been indicted on 32 counts, including conspiracy, theft, forgery, and 29 counts of fraudulent schemes. The Arizona Department of Public Safety, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Utah Attorney General’s Office were all involved in the investigation and arrest.
“While Mr. Petersen is entitled to a presumption of innocence, our investigation uncovered evidence that he has committed horrible crimes,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement. “Petersen’s illegal adoption scheme exploited highly vulnerable groups in two countries – the birth mothers and families in the Marshall Islands and the adoptive parents here in Utah.”
The adoption fraud scheme reportedly went on for at least three years. Lynwood Jennet was also named in the indictment, although additional information about Jennet was not immediately available. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office has established a hotline to help anyone affected by Petersen’s alleged offenses, which can be reached at 801-839-5640.