Elected Arizona Official Accused Of Human Trafficking Released From Federal Custody

Oct 29, 2019, 10:44 PM | Updated: Oct 30, 2019, 5:02 pm

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The man accused running a human trafficking scheme spanning three states including Utah is heading back to Arizona after pleading not guilty to 19 federal charges.

Paul Petersen made his first court appearance since his Oct. 8 arrest on Tuesday in Arkansas.

Petersen was released from federal custody after pleading not guilty to the 19 federal charges.

Defense attorneys Scott Williams of Salt Lake City and Kurt Altman of Phoenix said they are gearing up to prove Petersen is innocent.

“Paul Petersen isn’t a human smuggler but we understand what the charges are and we are ready to get into court and defend him,” Altman said.

Petersen, who was elected as the Maricopa County, Arizona, Assessor was indicted on 32 counts including sale of a child, conspiracy and fraud related to an adoption scheme targeting Marshallese women where he would recruit and bring them to Utah, Arizona and Arkansas to give birth.

He was arrested on Oct. 8 and Tuesday released on a $100,000 bond and ordered to wear a GPS monitor.

“We are mostly happy to have him out so if it means wearing an ankle monitor, GPS monitor, that’s acceptable,” Williams said.

His release came a day after the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to suspend him of his duties for 120 days. His attorneys are planning to appeal the suspension in the next 10 days and are optimistic about today’s release.

“He has been away from his family for the last three to four weeks. He wants to see them,” Altman said. “Frankly it is difficult to defend a case and prepare to defend a case like this when your client is in custody.”

If convicted, Peterson could face up to 315 years in prison and a $5 million fine.

Petersen is scheduled to appear in court in Arizona on Nov. 5 and then in Utah on Nov. 15. A trial for the federal case in Arkansas is scheduled for Dec. 9.

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Elected Arizona Official Accused Of Human Trafficking Released From Federal Custody