Adoption advocate saw problems with Petersen’s practices years ago

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SOUTH JORDAN, Utah (ABC4 News) – A Utah woman says over the years, she’s had conversations with the man facing human trafficking charges for his alleged role in the illegal adoptions of Marshallese children.

It was almost 20 years ago when Mary Jarman became involved in helping to establish adoption laws in the Marshall Islands. In her years of advocacy, she’s crossed paths with Paul Petersen.

“It was just a difference of opinion, and he was very adamant that he could go forward and continue doing what he was doing and do it legally,” Jarman said.

When asked if Jarman thought what he was doing at the time was legal, she said no.

Jarman said it was in the early 2000s when the Central Adoption Authority was put in place in the Marshall Islands as a means to clarify the illegal act of bringing mothers to the united states for the purpose of adoption.

When in conversation, Jarman said she tried to reason with Petersen about the adoption process and protecting the people’s rights.

“I knew the whole time he was going against the law, and there are definitely times I knew that things had been reported,” Jarman said.

While knowing the way he practiced wasn’t OK, Jarman said there wasn’t much she could do as Petersen was working through a legal loophole.

“Utah’s adoption laws are weak, their regulation of adoption agencies,” Jarman said.

After hearing of the scandal involving Petersen, Jarman said she feels overwhelmed learning of the rippling effect it’s taking on all families involved.

Going through the adoption process for some of her own children, one even being from the Marshall Islands, Jarman shares some advice for those wanting to adopt:

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If something seems fishy, if something seems too good to be true,” Jarman said. “The conversations were more about money…matching the adopted families with a birth mom.”

Petersen is believed to have brought more than 40 pregnant Marshallese women into Utah over the last three years.

To learn more about Petersen’s charges, click here.

In an interview with ABC4, Jarman also talked about her personal experiences in the Marshall Islands, as she she served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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