FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — Maricopa County Assessor and licensed adoption lawyer Paul Petersen has his initial hearing today in federal court in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Petersen was arrested Oct. 8 night following state indictments in Arizona and Utah and a federal indictment in Arkansas regarding an alleged illegal adoption scheme involving pregnant women from the Marshall Islands.
An audit of his work computer released Monday found relatively few documents related to his job as assessor, but numerous documents related to his adoption businesses.
What was Petersen arrested for?
Petersen faces 62 criminal charges out of the three states including fraudulent schemes, human smuggling, sale of a child and more.
Petersen was allegedly orchestrating adoptions where he would help Marshallese women travel to the U.S. for the purpose of giving birth and putting their baby up for adoption.
How much did this cost?
According to court documents out of Arizona, Petersen charged families around $35,000 per adoption.
In Arizona, according to the documents, Petersen would say those fees would cover medical costs, but of the 28 identified women who gave birth in Arizona, all had their delivery cost covered by the state's Medicaid agency.
Per court documents, investigators with the state's Medicaid agency (AHCCCS) have estimated the loss to the state to be more than $800,000 for the 28 identified birth mothers.
What happens to the children already adopted?
Officials in each state say they are not interested in interfering with adoptions that have already taken place. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a press conference that the birth mothers, adoptive families and children are all seen as victims in this case.
The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas said their investigation has not revealed any birth mothers who are asking for their children back.
How big is this investigation?
Law enforcement in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas are investigating adoptions Petersen facilitated in those states.
Utah officials say they sent investigators to the Marshall Islands to look into claims against Petersen. They ask any victims or witnesses in this situation to call their hotline at 801-839-5640.
An associate of Petersen was arrested in Arkansas on related charges. The US. District Attorney in Arkansas says 66 children have been adopted through Petersen across the country in the last two years.
Why is this illegal?
This arrangement violates an agreement called the Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, which bars Marshallese citizens from entering the U.S. if their travel is for the purpose of adoption.
The treaty provision on child adoptions was enacted in the early 2000s to prevent unregulated international adoptions where the biological mothers' cultural misunderstandings might be exploited. For example, a 2002 study showed many women from the Marshall Islands allowed their children to be adopted by U.S. citizens thinking their children would benefit from better education and return to them as adults.
What was Petersen's connection to the Marshall Islands?
Utah AG Sean Reyes says Petersen is connected to the Marshall Islands because he went on a mission to the islands with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.