Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen Resigns

By Matthew Casey, Steve Goldstein, Kaely Monahan
Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, January 7, 2020 - 3:20pm
Updated: Wednesday, January 8, 2020 - 1:00pm

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Paul Petersen
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office
Paul Petersen

Paul Petersen has resigned the job of Maricopa County assessor.

The man accused of running an illegal adoption scam would’ve had less than a year left in his term, if he’d returned from suspension and survived an effort to oust him.

Petersen announced his resignation on Tuesday in a written statement released by one of his attorneys.

Petersen maintained his innocence, blaming the media and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors for presuming he’s guilty.

The county's governing board voted in late December to start the process of removing Petersen, who also works as an adoption attorney.

He is accused of illegally paying women from the Pacific island nation to come to the United States to give up their babies in at least 70 adoption cases in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas over three years. Citizens of the Marshall Islands have been prohibited from traveling to the U.S. for adoption purposes since 2003.

In a statement released by his attorneys, Petersen proclaimed his innocence and said he never neglected his duties as assessor, who is responsible for determining the property values in Arizona’s most populous county, which includes Phoenix. The Republican said county officials and news organizations presumed he was guilty.

“My focus now turns to defending the allegations against me,” Petersen said.

He is charged with human smuggling in Utah and Arkansas and defrauding Arizona's Medicaid system by $800,000 by submitting false applications for the women to receive state-funded health coverage.

Authorities say the women who went to Utah to give birth received little to no prenatal care. They also said Petersen and his associates took passports from the pregnant women while they were in the U.S. to assert more control over them.

Petersen has pleaded not guilty to the charges in Arizona and Arkansas. He hasn't yet entered a plea in Utah.

His attorneys have said Petersen ran a legal adoption practice and has been vilified before his side of the story comes out. They had argued that the county governing board had no basis for suspending him.

Petersen previously rejected calls to resign and was fighting his 120-day unpaid suspension.

Thousands of files related to his adoption business were discovered on his government laptop, cementing the board’s push to remove him. Content recovered on the laptop included text messages of pregnant women being threatened when they changed their minds about giving up their newborns.

Petersen, who was paid $77,000 a year in his government job, won a 2014 special election to be assessor and was re-elected in 2016. His term was scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christs of Latter-day Saints, he completed a proselytizing mission in the Marshall Islands, a collection of atolls and islands in the eastern Pacific.

Lynwood Jennet, who was accused of helping Petersen in the scheme, pleaded guilty last month in Arizona to helping arrange state-funded health coverage for the expectant mothers, even though the women didn't live in the state. She has agreed to testify against Petersen.

Petersen's full statement:

I am an innocent man, but the media and the Board of Supervisors have presumed my guilt rather than my innocence in this matter.  The Board of Supervisors even disregarded their own report concluding that my office discharged all its statutory duties, and the legal standard governing suspensions of duly elected constitutional officers, because they believed no one would look too closely in light of the sensationalized and one-sided media environment.  Several of the Supervisors voted to suspend me for being involuntarily absent from the office for less time than they were voluntarily absent; they were a jury of hypocrites.

I fought the Board’s initial decision because it felt wrong to capitulate to a suspension based on anything other than my performance in office—and because, as the Board’s own report concluded, I never neglected my duties as the Maricopa County Assessor.  Anyone can second guess the hours I spent at the downtown office, or whether the position should be appointed rather than elected, but I performed my statutory duties with honesty and the support and loyalty of an entire office.

Two regrets as I leave public life are that I did not have an opportunity to personally thank the professional team with whom I served for over 14 years in the Assessor's office, and that this spectacle has distracted them from their dedication to fairly and equitably valuing all property in Maricopa County.

Today, I reluctantly resign as Maricopa County Assessor. My focus now turns to defending the allegations against me. Those allegations will ultimately be resolved in a courtroom, where rules and the Constitution still matter.

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