Arizona Elected Official Faced with Human Smuggling Charges

Madeline Farnsworth, Contributor

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Paul Petersen, an Arizona Assessor and an adoption lawyer, is facing eleven second and third-degree felonies in Utah. He is being accused of being a leader of a smuggling ring that brought pregnant Marshallese women in to America to sell their babies. Petersen was “offered a significant amount of money to place their babies for adoption in Utah”.  Back in October 2017, Attorney General Sean Reyes’s office got a call to a human-trafficking tip line. In the Salt Lake City region, there was an influx of Marshallese women going into labor and giving up their children for adoption. Travelling from the Marshall Islands to America for work does not require a visa and is not illegal. However, travelling to sell your child to be put up for adoption is illegal. Petersen facing charges but the women who gave birth and the adoptive families are not facing any charges.

One of Petersen’s neighbors, Bella Perez, told reporters that she had seen many pregnant women and women who had children with children coming in and out of the house. Perez said she just thought that they were all part of a family that lived together. Perez was in disbelief that her neighbor could have done something like this. She said that all of the allegations against Petersen was ” crazy, that’s like a lot. How can you do that to kids? It’s crazy how a neighbor of yours is doing all those things and you don’t even know.”

Petersen’s plan was sly and followed a pattern. He would pay an investigator in the Marshall Islands to find pregnant women who wanted to give their babies up for adoption. He then would pay the women $1,000 per month that they were pregnant while they were in the United States. Some women he would promise $10,000 to give their babies to him. The thousands of dollars Petersen gave to the women seemed like so much money. But the amount that the Petersen would charge the adoptive families was outrageous. He would sometimes charge the families up to $40,000 per adoption. Petersen would tell the families that the money was for the mother’s medical bills. He would then send money to the mother’s who were still in the Marshall Islands in order for them to buy a passport to come to the United States. He then would take care of the women until they would go into labor. Sometimes the women would be in his home for a few days to several months. Right before the women would give birth, someone from the association would help them sign up for Medicaid health care. They would falsely state that the women were residents of the state. After the births, Petersen paid the women and flew them back to either the Marshall Islands or to another state, often Arkansas.

Petersen had collectively been paid over $800,000 for the adoptions. After his arrest on Tuesday, October 8, Petersen’s bond was set at $500,000 because he was considered a flight risk. His passport was also suspended until his case goes to court and there is a verdict on his case. His hearing in court is not until the 20th of October.

Sources:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/10/09/paul-petersen-arizona-official-indicted-adoption-fraud-scheme/3926733002/

https://www.foxnews.com/us/paul-petersen-charged-arizona-utah-arkansas-marshall-islands-adoption

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