Thursday, October 10, 2019
An Arizona elected official ran a human smuggling scheme that promised pregnant women thousands of dollars to lure them from a Pacific Island nation to the U.S., where they were crammed into houses to wait to give birth, sometimes with little to no prenatal care, prosecutors allege. Paul Petersen, the Republican assessor of Arizona's most populous county, was charged in Utah, Arizona and Arkansas with counts including human smuggling, sale of a child, fraud, forgery and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The charges span about three years and involve some 75 adoptions. Investigators also found eight pregnant women from the Marshall Islands in raids of his properties outside Phoenix, and several more are waiting to give birth in Utah, authorities said.
"The commoditization of children is simply evil," said Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes.
The adoptive parents are considered victims along with the birth mothers, and no completed adoptions will be undone, authorities said.
Petersen's attorney, Matthew Long, defended his client's actions during a Tuesday court hearing in Phoenix as "proper business practices" and said they disagreed with the allegations.
Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said Petersen should resign from his elected position determining the taxable value for properties in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and its suburbs.
Petersen served a two-year mission in the Marshall Islands for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Reyes said. He was later recruited by an international adoption agency while in law school because of his fluency in Marshallese, according to a 2013 Phoenix Business Journal story.
Admin's note: Participants in this discussion must follow the site's moderation policy. Profanity will be filtered. Abusive conduct is not allowed.