Breaking News
More () »

Court docs: Paul Petersen brought pregnant Marshallese women to Arizona and charged $35,000 for adoptions

Paul Petersen, the Maricopa County Assessor and a licensed adoption lawyer, has been indicted in an international adoption fraud scheme.

Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen, who was indicted in an international adoption fraud scheme, charged families around $35,000 per adoption, according to court documents.

According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, a trooper was contacted in December of 2018 with information about an Arizona adoption attorney, later identified as Petersen, who was allegedly conducting adoptions with babies from the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The person who contacted the trooper said he was referred to Petersen by a third party regarding adopting a child. He told DPS, according to court documents, the Petersen practices he learned about during their conversation were "suspicious."

According to court documents, DPS detectives learned Petersen has been involved in adoption Marshallese babies since at least 2005. Between Nov. 30, 2015, and May 30, 2019, detectives were able to identify 28 women from the Marshall Islands who gave birth in the Phoenix area and gave their child up for adoptions. One of those women gave birth twice. 

RELATED: Maricopa County Assessor indicted in international adoption fraud scheme involving human smuggling, sale of kids

An agreement called the Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and the Republic of the Marshall Islands bars Marshallese citizens from entering the U.S. if their travel is for the purpose of adoption.

DPS Director Col. Frank Milstead said eight Marshallese women, who are believed to be pregnant, were found in a Mesa home where a search warrant was served Tuesday night. Several search warrants were carried out in the Valley around the time of Petersen's arrest.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said Wednesday the families that adopted the children are not under investigation.

Pattern of adoption

According to court documents, Petersen would find and match birth mothers and adoptive families using people who were on his payroll in the Marshall Islands and the United States. 

Court documents show Petersen would charge families around $35,000 per adoption.

Petersen, according to the documents, would say the 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 to 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.

The documents revealed Petersen sent money to the Marshall Islands for the pregnant women to purchase passports and he would also pay for the women to fly to Phoenix and stay for the duration of their pregnancy.

According to the court documents, the pregnant women were housed in a home owned by Petersen and are assisted with applying for AHCCCS benefits when they are ready to give birth. The women are then often flown back to the Marshall Islands or taken to another state, most commonly Arkansas, after giving birth, the documents said.

The women had similar flight patterns

According to the court documents, the flight patterns of the 28 identified women who gave birth in Arizona were very similar.

The documents showed each woman would fly to Arizona and give birth, within days in some cases. The documents also showed in some cases the women would stay as long as six months in Arizona.

A flight out or Arizona would be booked out shortly after they delivered the child, according to the court documents.

They were paid

According to the court documents, investigators believe the women participated because they were paid $1,000 per month while they are pregnant in the United States. Their food and travel were also covered.

Some birth mothers were even promised up to $10,000 to put their unborn baby up for adoption by Petersen and his associates, the court documents said.

According to the documents, Petersen employed Marshallese women in Arizona, Utah, and Arkansas who would translate, transport, and care for the birth mothers along with helping them apply for benefits and notarize legal documents.

The court documents reveal Lynwood Jennet, who was also arrested in connection to the case, is the "point of contact for all the birth mothers" and the people in the Marshall Islands finding expecting mothers interested in coming to the United States to give their child up for adoption. She would relay information to Petersen the court documents showed.

According to the documents, Jennet would author affidavits saying the women lived with her to the Arizona Department of Economic Security as a way to establish their residency for benefits.

Before You Leave, Check This Out