Utah Attorney General’s Office Charges Elected Arizona Official With Human Smuggling, Sale Of Children
Oct 8, 2019, 9:49 PM | Updated: Oct 9, 2019, 2:26 pm
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The Utah Attorney General’s Office has charged an elected Arizona official with 11 felony offenses, including human smuggling, sale of a child and communications fraud, according to officials.
Officials with the Utah Attorney General’s Office said Paul D. Petersen, who is the elected County Assessor for Maricopa County, Arizona, and an adoption lawyer licensed in Utah and Arizona, was arrested in Arizona Tuesday night.
Officials alleged Petersen ran an illegal adoption scheme recruiting, transporting and paying women from the Republic of the Marshal Islands to give up their babies for adoption in the U.S.
According to the press release, Petersen is alleged to have transported over 40 pregnant Marshallese to Utah over the last three years.
“While Mr. Petersen is entitled to a presumption of innocence, our investigation uncovered evidence that he has committed horrible crimes,” said Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes in a press release. “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. It is heartbreaking that these families from both countries were so cruelly manipulated.”
Petersen also faces related charges in Arizona and Arkansas, according to the press release.
“Due to a long history of adoption-related exploitation in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, adoptions between the United States and the Marshall Islands are governed by an Interstate Compact that prohibits this type of international adoption,” officials said in the press release.
Officials with the Utah Attorney General’s Office said they were alerted about the case through their human trafficking tip line.
“This case first came to us from concerned hospital workers cold-calling our human trafficking tip line,” said Chief Criminal Deputy Spencer Austin. “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.”
Officials will hold a press conference Wednesday at noon to discuss details of the case and subsequent charges.
According to court documents, Petersen faces three third-degree felony counts of sale of child, three second-degree counts of communications fraud, four counts of third-degree felony counts of human smuggling and a second-degree felony count of pattern of unlaw activity.
A warrant for Petersen’s arrest was issued on Tuesday.