Arizona official charged in multi-state adoption scam, including Utah, booked into Arkansas jail

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UPDATE (10/29/2019) – Paul Petersen booked into Washington County jail in Fayetteville, Arkansas ahead of his 2 p.m. central federal court hearing on Tuesday. 

Petersen has been charged with 19 felonies in Arkansas, including charges of human smuggling, sale of a child and communications fraud.

Petersen still faces 11 similar felonies in Utah and 32 felonies in Arizona where it is alleged he offered $10,000 to pregnant Marshallese women to give their babies up for adoption in the United States.

Per prosecutors, Petersen charged $25,000 to $40,000 per adoption.

His Arizona charges include conspiracy, fraud, theft and forgery involving 29 babies.

As Maricopa County Assessor, KFTA said he earns $77,000 a year and is up for re-election in 2020.

Petersen had posted a $150,000 bail in Utah on Oct 25 and was on pre-trial release when he was booked into jail in Arkansas.

His next court appearance in Utah is currently scheduled for November 15 in Salt Lake City.

Petersen was allowed to post bail at the Washington County Jail around 3 p.m. C.T. Tuesday and will be required to wear an ankle monitor.


SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – An elected official in Arizona was charged with 11 felonies in Utah including human smuggling, sale of a child and communications fraud.

Paul D. Petersen was arrested in Arizona Tuesday following charges by the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

Petersen is an adoption lawyer licensed in Utah and Arizona and is the elected County Assessor for Maricopa County.

The AG’s office alleges Petersen ran 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 United States and the Marshall Islands have an agreement that prohibits this type of international adoption.

Investigators say Petersen “failed to disclose the compact and other material aspects of his scheme to adoptive parents who paid him to facilitate their adoptions.”

Petersen is believed to have transported more than 40 pregnant Marshallese women into Utah over the last three years. He faces charges for related offenses in Arkansas and Arizona.

“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,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes in a statement. “It is heartbreaking that these families from both countries were so cruelly manipulated.”

Chief Criminal Deputy Spencer Austin said investigators were first tipped off by concerned hospital workers cold-calling the human trafficking tip line.

“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,” said Austin.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office has set up a hotline to assist anyone affected by Petersen’s alleged offenses: 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.

Arizona official charged with human smuggling and sale of children in Utah

An Arizona official charged with human smuggling and sale of children in Utah. Live press conference from the Utah Attorney General's office. Read more about the case here: https://bit.ly/2VueUkE

Posted by ABC4 Utah – Good4Utah on Wednesday, October 9, 2019

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