A former Arizona official was sentenced Tuesday to more than six years in federal prison for leading a multi-state adoption fraud scheme that prosecutors say attacked women in the Marshall Islands and to adoptive parents in the United States wishing to start a family. .
The official Paul D. Petersen, a Republican who was twice elected as a Maricopa County assessor, has arranged at least 70 illegal adoptions in Arkansas, Arizona and Utah, prosecutors said. In some of those cases, prosecutors said, he falsified residency information so he could enroll pregnant women in the South Pacific island nation for state health care coverage.
A 1983 pact banned citizens of the Marshall Islands from traveling to the United States for adoption. The pact allows Marshallese citizens to enter and work freely in the United States.
“He exploited a legal loophole and used it to run an intercountry adoption business outside of the necessary oversight of the United States or the Republic of the Marshall Islands,” said David Clay Fowlkes, the United States’ first deputy lawyer. western district of Arkansas. A declaration. “This unique case deserved the harsh sentence ordered by the court today.”
“During the scheme,” said Mr. Fowlkes, “the accused lied to judges in state courts, falsified records, encouraged others to lie during court proceedings and manipulated the birth mothers. for them to consent to adoptions that they did not fully understand.
On Tuesday, Mr. Petersen, 45, appeared via Zoom at a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, Ark., After pleading guilty to a federal trafficking charge. human beings in June.
Mr. Petersen, a resident of Mesa, Arizona, is awaiting conviction on state charges in Arizona and Utah, where he previously pleaded guilty to human trafficking and fraud.
His lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Federal prosecutors in the Arkansas case had requested a 10-year sentence for Mr Petersen, whose attorneys said he helped create many loving families over the years as a lawyer for private adoption and had accepted responsibility for his actions.
Under the terms of his Arkansas plea deal, Mr. Petersen must also pay a fine of $ 100,000 and will be on probation for three years after his release from prison.
As part of the program, prosecutors said, Mr Petersen offered each of the pregnant women $ 10,000 to put their newborns up for adoption, siphoning money for housing and health care after arranging their trip of more than 5000 kilometers in the United States.
Then, after falsifying the residency records of some of the pregnant women to enroll them for state health care coverage, Mr Petersen demanded a fee of $ 35,000 from parents wishing to adopt, authorities say. from Arizona.
In October 2019, Mr. Petersen was charged in his home state of Arizona, as well as in Arkansas and Utah.
At the time, he had been an appraiser for Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and is the most populous county in Arizona. The assessor is responsible for property assessments and property tax policy. In 2016, Mr. Petersen received over one million votes in the Evaluator Race. He resigned from his post in January of this year.
At the time of his arrest, Mr. Petersen’s adoption website listed the average cost of an adoption from $ 30,000 to $ 40,000, which “covers the birth mother’s monthly expenses, prenatal medical costs and childbirth, assistants and office costs ”.
A co-defendant in the Arizona case pleaded guilty to fraud, theft and failure to file an income tax return in December 2019, the state attorney general’s office said.