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Maricopa County Assessor Accused Of Adoption Fraud Scheme

Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2019 - 7:58pm
Updated: Wednesday, October 9, 2019 - 5:31pm
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Maricopa County Sheriff's Office
Paul Petersen

Paul Petersen, the Maricopa County assessor, faces more than 30 felony charges just in Arizona, Attorney General Mark Brnovich said at a news conference Wednesday. The allegations are connected to a so-called adoption fraud scheme.

“(Petersen) has also been indicted by federal authorities in Arkansas and by state authorities in the state of Utah,” Brnovich said.

The investigation is connected to Petersen’s work as a lawyer. Brnovich said it involves pregnant women from the Republic of the Marshall Islands flying to Arizona, having their babies, and putting them up for adoption.

A grand jury indictment in Arizona accuses Petersen of using false information to get Marshallese women taxpayer-funded health care.    

“Allegedly bilking the state out of more than $800,000,” Brnovich said.

Brnovich said the case involves at least 29 births between November 2015 and May 2019. He repeatedly said that families who adopted the Marshallese children are not under investigation.  

The director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety said a tip that prompted the probe and led the indictment of Petersen came from someone who sought legal help from Petersen to adopt a child.

“After the initial meeting this particular person was concerned about the legitimacy of the process. The fees involved in the process,” Col. Frank Milstead said.

When authorities arrested Petersen on Tuesday, they also had court orders to look around.  

“And at one of the locations where the search warrant was executed there were eight additional Marshallese women there, who were all pregnant at the time,” Milstead said.

In Utah, Petersen faces accusations such as human smuggling and selling a child.

In Arkansas, a federal grand jury has accused Petersen of immigration-related crimes, money laundering conspiracy and fraud.

Last year, an investigation by Honolulu Civil Beat raised questions about Petersen’s job as a private-sector adoption attorney.

The report said Peterson arranged for pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to fly to Utah to live in a house he owned and matched them with adoptive families.

In the late 1990s, the report said, the remote Pacific nation tried to control unregulated black-market adoptions by making it illegal for women to travel to the United States to adopt out their children.

Investigative reporter Emily Dugdale wrote several stories for Honolulu Civil Beat on the elicit adoption trade and the role Peterson and an accomplice played. Dugdale is now a Los Angeles-based reporter and joined The Show to talk about this development.

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