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Homeowners Say Man Accused In Adoption Scheme Held Marshallese Women In Utah Home

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — The owners of the West Valley City home where Paul Petersen allegedly housed dozens of pregnant Marshallese women shared some unusual details they found when they moved into the home.

The owners spoke out as more details have been emerging in the case against Paul Petersen the adoption attorney and Maricopa County, Arizona, assessor accused of running an illegal adoption scheme of Marshallese children in Utah, Arizona and Arkansas.

“Neighbors started telling us stories about stuff that was going on in the house,” homeowner Alanna Mabey said.

Alanna Mabey said she purchased the West Valley City home this past May.

“ [Neighbors saw] when they moved out, there were 10-15 mattresses that were taken out of the house,” said Mabey of the home’s previous tenants.

Mabey said she purchased the home from Paul Petersen, the man now facing charges for running an illegal adoption scheme of Marshallese newborns. Petersen made his first court appearance Wednesday in Arizona.

“When I heard the name on the news that it was Paul D. Petersen, I knew because that is the name on all of our paperwork,” Mabey said.

Mabey said shortly after moving in, she started hearing unusual accounts about the previous tenant.

“I heard that there was just a lot of people in and out of here, mostly women, mostly women and children, little children. Then the women would be here for a little while and then the women would disappear, the kids would still be here and then the kids would disappear… and so we weren’t really sure what was going on,” Mabey said.

Petersen was well acquainted with the traditions and language of the Marshall Islands after serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints there in the 1990s.

According to charging documents, Petersen recruited pregnant Marshallese women and brought them to Utah, Arkansas and Arizona promising them $10,000 in exchange for placing their babies up for adoption.

Charging documents added Petersen would cover the expectant mothers’ travel expenses, housing them here at the residence on Florita Avenue.

Detectives said they surveilled Petersen between February 2018 and March 2019, noting the presence of several pregnant women.

“There used to be a door here and that was padlocked shut,” Mabey said as she showed padlocks they found on several doors when they moved into the home. “This padlock here was on the door and we cut that off.”

She said there was also an unusual square opening between two rooms in the basement where one of the doors had a padlock on it.

”It’s cut out of the cement foundation, why would you do that it’s just weird,” Mabey said.

Then, there was the mail Mabey said kept coming in the name of previous tenants.

“I keep getting these all the time for her and many other women, there is always someone’s different name that comes here,” Mabey said.

Charging documents also mentioned a Marshallese woman who lived at the residence and worked for Petersen, driving the expectant mothers to the hospital. Officials said the woman also acted as a spokesperson for the expectant mothers when speaking with social workers at the hospital.

“The social worker then spoke to Saimon over the phone. Saimon said she works for an attorney. Saimon said she goes to the Marshall Islands to “find pregnant women to adopt their babies out.” Saimon said she gets her housing and bills paid for. Saimon said she lives at the Florita Avenue home,” charging documents from the Utah Attorney General’s Office said.

In total, officials said 40 Marshallese women were identified in Utah between December 2016 and August 2019.

“It makes me angry it breaks my heart…I mean what’s going to happen to these beautiful babies that have been adopted out, what is going to happen to those families,” Mabey said.

According to Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, the adoptions will not be undone at this time.

Petersen is facing charges in Utah, Arizona and Arkansas. There are two more co-defendants listed in Arizona and Arkansas — Lynwood Jennet in Arizona and Maki Takehisha in Arkansas.