PHOENIX — Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen was indicted in an international adoption fraud scheme involving women from the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific. He's facing dozens of charges in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas.
Petersen is an adoption lawyer licensed in Arizona and Utah. He allegedly helped 28 pregnant Marshallese women travel to Arizona to give birth and put their child up for adoption, according to the Arizona Attorney General's Office. The Utah Attorney General's Office said Petersen helped more than 40 pregnant Marshallese women travel to Utah.
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.
Petersen is facing charges in three states. Officials from each state outlined the charges against him Wednesday. Officials in each state say they are not interested in interfering with adoptions that have already taken place.
Petersen and Lynwood Jennet each face 32 charges in Arizona. Jenet, who was also arrested in connection to the case, is the "point of contact for all the birth mothers" and the those in the Marshall Islands tasked with finding expecting mothers interested in coming to the United States to give their child up for adoption.
Those charges are below.
-28 counts of Fraudulent Schemes and Practices, Class 5 felonies
-1 count of Conspiracy, a Class 2 felony
-1 count of Fraudulent Schemes and Artifices, a Class 2 felony
-1 count of Theft, a Class 2 felony
-1 count of Forgery, a Class 4 felony
Petersen faces 11 felony counts in Utah, more serious charges than in Arizona. The charges announced by officials Wednesday are below:
-4 counts of Human Smuggling, 3rd-degree felony
-3 counts of Sale of a Child, 3rd-degree felony
-3 counts of Communications Fraud, 2nd-degree felony
-1 count of Pattern of Unlawful Activity, 2nd-degree felony
Petersen was indicted on 19 charges in Arkansas. Another associate of his, Maki Takehisa was also named in the indictment. Charges against Petersen are below:
-1 count of Conspiracy to Smuggle Illegal Aliens For Commercial Advantage and Private Financial Gain
-4 counts of Aiding and Abetting Alien Smuggling For Commercial Advantage and Private Financial Gain
-7 counts of Wire Fraud
-5 counts of Mail Fraud
-1 count of Conspiracy to Commit Visa Fraud
-1 count of Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering
Petersen was booked into 4th Avenue Jail Tuesday and his initial appearance was Tuesday night.