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Arizona official charged with baby trafficking won't resign, attorney says

Paul Petersen's lawyer says it's too soon to talk about resignation and claims the Maricopa County assessor is being 'tortured' by jail treatment.

PHOENIX — The attorney for Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen said Tuesday that Petersen would not resign despite facing 62 felony charges in three states connected to his adoption business.

"At this point, he is not resigning," said Matt Long, Petersen's lawyer and a close friend for more than 20 years since their days working with a nonprofit that arranged adoptions from the Marshall Islands.

"We've yet to begin our investigation to look at what other information or evidence is out there," Long said. "(It's) still very premature to even be able to fairly have that question." 

Long's comments mark the first time since Petersen's arrest seven days ago that a representative has responded to the charges.

PREVIOUSLY: Inside the baby-mill case against Maricopa County official Paul Petersen

In a wide-ranging interview outside the Maricopa County Courthouse, Long claimed Petersen was being railroaded by prosecutors, "tortured" by the jail system since his arrest a week ago and denied access to an attorney.

"The one thing he told me when we did meet, is 'Matt I just want to get in court. Let's look at the evidence and let's do this straight up,'" Long said. "But there's been a number of steps up to this point to make that difficult."

A Maricopa County judge postponed Petersen's hearing Tuesday to enter a not-guilty plea on Arizona charges that he defrauded the state Medicaid program of $800,000. The hearing was reset for early November, after Petersen's scheduled court appearance in Arkansas.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has charged Petersen with sticking taxpayers with the hospital bills for deliveries by Marshallese women, whose babies were adopted by Petersen's clients for up to $40,000 each.

RELATED: Paul Petersen indictment and arrest: quick facts

Petersen has faced calls to resign from Gov. Doug Ducey and the Maricopa County Board.

On Monday, the board got legal advice on whether it could remove Petersen from office. It also ordered an audit of Petersen's assessor's office to learn if he had used county money or resources in his Mesa-based adoption business. 

Prosecutors in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas have charged Petersen with felonies ranging from human trafficking to fraud. 

Petersen is being held in federal custody in Arizona pending his return to Arkansas to face federal charges on Oct. 29. 

The Mesa Republican was appointed to fill the vacant county assessor's office in 2013, then won a special election in 2014 and the general election in 2016, with no opposition. His current term expires at the end of 2020.

From jail, he continues to collect his $77,000 per year salary.

The county assessor's office is being run by the deputy assessor. The office assigns values to Maricopa County property, such as single-family homes, that are the basis for your property tax bill.

Petersen was arrested last Tuesday and placed in federal custody on Friday. He is currently jailed in Florence, according to federal authorities.

Long said he hadn't had a chance to speak with Petersen at length while he's been jailed.

"He had been effectively tortured by the government by being transported back and forth without sleep, laying on a concrete slab on the floor," Long said. "The ability to go in and discuss substantive things was just impractical."

These are the charges against Paul Petersen, accused of running illegal adoption scheme involving Marshallese women
Court docs: Paul Petersen brought pregnant Marshallese women to Arizona and charged $35,000 for adoptions
Answering your questions about Paul Petersen's adoption agency

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