WEST VALLEY CITY (ABC4 News) – Paul Petersen, an Arizona county official and adoption lawyer for Arizona and Utah is accused of smuggling and selling children from the Marshall Islands.
It’s the same place he once served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Court documents allege Petersen “was the “boss” of the adoption agency and owned this home on Florlita Avenue.”
More than 40 pregnant Marshallese women were allegedly held in the West Valley home.
“It’s very disturbing, it’s crazy, but I had no idea,” said Colleen Glaittli.
Glaittli lives next door to the home in question and says she saw a lot of people and children come and go.
“I think they kept to themselves other than the fact that they stayed awake a lot at night a long time, and made a little noise,” she said.
Authorities said Petersen and acquaintances would approach pregnant women in the Marshall Islands offer them $10,000 to deliver and adopt their babies out of the United States.
Petersen allegedly took $2,720,560.00 in payments for adoptions.
“It’s hard to even believe,” Glaittli added.
Alana Mabey bought the home from Petersen in April. She quickly found some odd things like a window carved out of a utility room leading into a cement storage room.
“There was nothing really in here but this door was deadbolt, had a padlock like this on it,” she tells ABC4 News, Jason Nguyen.
Mabey showed our team four rooms with the padlocks on them, and one had a pet door in it.
Court documents state the Marshallese woman would sleep on mattresses that were placed on the floors.
“What I’ve been told it’s been three years at least that he has been doing this, and that is just sad,” said Mabey.
Mabey still receives mail for the victims. She believes one of the packages holds a book of photos of a mother and her child. That package will be turned over the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
“I think it is disgusting and what he is doing is wrong,” she said.
If convicted Petersen may see a maximum 315 years in prison and face a $5,000,000 fine.
UPDATE (10/29/2019 KFTA) Paul Petersen was booked into the Washington County jail in Fayetteville, Arkansas ahead of his 2 PM central federal court hearing.
In addition to the 11 felonies Petersen faces in Utah, he has been charged with 19 more in Arkansas and 32 in Arizona.