Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen, a Republican, has been indicted on 11 counts, including human smuggling and sale of a child, as part of a massive international adoption fraud scheme, NBC News reported Wednesday.
Prosecutors accuse Petersen of transporting 40 pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to Utah to give birth and proceeded to sell the babies to U.S. families for $40,000 each. According to court documents, he is also accused of fraudulently billing Medicaid for the prenatal costs, by claiming the Marshallese women were residents of Arizona.
Peterson, a Republican, was first appointed to the position of Maricopa County assessor in 2013 after serving as the office’s liaison to the legislature and won a regularly scheduled election unopposed in 2016.
“While Mr. Petersen is entitled to a presumption of innocence, our investigation uncovered evidence that he has committed horrible crimes,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a prepared statement. “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.”
Petersen’s adoption law practice first came under scrutiny in 2018. He was taken into custody by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Homeland Security Investigations, and officials from the Utah Attorney General’s Office, NBC News reports.