Arizona elected official facing charges in Utah of human smuggling, sale of a child

Paul D. Petersen. Photo: Maricopa County Assessor's Office website

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Oct. 8, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — An Arizona elected official has been charged in three states, including Utah, on suspicion of human smuggling and sale of a child.

Paul D. Petersen has been charged with 11 felony offenses, a news release from the Utah Attorney General’s Office said late Tuesday.

“Petersen is an adoption lawyer licensed in Utah and Arizona and is the elected County Assessor for Maricopa County, Arizona. He was arrested in California Tuesday evening,” the news release states.

“Petersen is alleged to have run an illegal adoption scheme where he recruited, transported, and offered payment to pregnant Marshallese women to give their babies up for adoption in the United States,” the news release continued.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, there has been a long history of adoption-related exploitation in the Republic of the Marshall Islands and, for this reason, adoptions between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands “are governed by an Interstate Compact that prohibits this type of international adoption.”

Petersen was charged with communications fraud after “he allegedly failed to disclose the compact and other material aspects of his scheme to adoptive parents who paid him to facilitate their adoptions.”

More than 40 women?

He is accused of transporting more than 40 pregnant Marshallese women into Utah over the last three years as part of the scheme, the news release said.

The Utah AG is working “with authorities from Arizona, Arkansas, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands in parallel investigations of this scheme.”

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Petersen also faces charges in Arkansas and Arizona.

“While Mr. Petersen is entitled to a presumption of innocence, our investigation uncovered evidence that he has committed horrible crimes,” said Attorney General Reyes. “Petersen’s illegal adoption scheme exploited highly vulnerable groups in two countries — the birth mothers and families in the Marshall Islands and the adoptive parents here in Utah.”

“It is heartbreaking that these families from both countries were so cruelly manipulated,” Reyes added.

“This case first came to us from concerned hospital workers cold-calling our human trafficking tip line,” said Chief Criminal Deputy Spencer Austin. “We always say, ‘If you see something, say something.’ I think these charges prove that if you do say something, we will listen. We will use every resource at our disposal to put a stop to these horrendous crimes.”

In the news release, Reyes expressed his thanks to those who came forward to report these crimes, and the many agencies that assisted in the international investigation. He also expressed thanks to “the victims of this scheme, for sharing their stories with our investigators.”

Hotline for victims

The Utah Attorney General’s Office has set up a hotline to help anyone affected by Petersen’s alleged offenses. Call 801-839-5640. Caseworkers with the Refugee and Immigrant Center – Asian Association of Utah are in place and ready to help any victims of this scheme, the news release said.

Gephardt Daily will update this developing story as more information becomes known.

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