LOCAL NEWS

Official Pleads Not Guilty In Alleged Human Smuggling Scheme

Nov 6, 2019, 7:46 AM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 4:49 pm

PHOENIX (AP) — A lawyer for an elected official in metro Phoenix charged with running a human smuggling scheme involving pregnant women from the Marshall Islands says Tuesday that his client is willing to go to court to challenge other officials who suspended him without pay after his arrest.

Attorney Kory Langhofer says Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen will try to amicably resolve the dispute, but if that fails, he’ll file a lawsuit contesting the county governing board’s decision to impose a 120-day unpaid suspension.

Langhofer said the Oct. 28 decision isn’t constitutionally sound, explaining his client and the board are equals who can’t oust each other.

“They have decided to throw him out regardless of what the constitution says, and so I suspect this is going to end up in court,” Langhofer said shortly after Petersen was arraigned in Phoenix.

Outside of court, Petersen didn’t talk to news reporters after pleading not guilty to fraud and theft charges stemming from the alleged scheme.

Petersen, who in addition to his job as assessor did private-sector work in adoptions, is accused of illegally paying women from the Marshall Islands to have their babies in the United States and give them up for adoption.

Authorities say the scheme defrauded Arizona’s Medicaid system of $800,000.

Petersen has been indicted on federal charges in Arkansas and charged in Arizona and Utah as part of the alleged scheme.

He has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges. He hasn’t yet been arraigned in Utah.

The cases span three years and involves about 75 adoptions.

Authorities say the women were crammed in homes owned or rented by Petersen, sometimes with little to no prenatal care, and that Petersen charged families $25,000 to $40,000 per adoption.

Petersen completed a mission in the Marshall Islands, a collection of atolls and islands in the eastern Pacific, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He later worked in the islands and the U.S. on behalf of an international adoption agency before going to law school and becoming an adoption attorney.

Petersen has refused calls for him to resign.

Last week, the Board of Supervisors said state law let it suspend Petersen for “neglect of duty,” citing his absence from the office during his incarceration and limited access to phone and email.

The board said an audit of the assessor’s office after Petersen’s arrest found files from his adoption business on his county computer, which can’t be used for personal business.

“The board believes they are on solid legal footing,” Fields Moseley, a spokesman for county government, said in responding to the claim that Petersen’s suspension wasn’t legitimate.

Board members, however, lack the power to permanently remove Petersen from his office, which determines the value of properties for tax purposes in Phoenix and its suburbs.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

The scene of the shooting at 900 S. 200 West....
Michael Houck

UTA: One man dead, another injured after shooting at TRAX station

A man is dead, and another is in "serious condition" after a shooting at a Trax station Saturday evening.
1 day ago
This holiday weekend, officers are tracking down safety problems on the water, in 'Operation Dry Wa...
Michael Locklear

Utah officers target drunk boaters as part of holiday weekend safety blitz

This holiday weekend, officers are tracking down safety problems on the water, in 'Operation Dry Water.'
1 day ago
Supporters against abortion rights at the Utah Capitol....
Michael Houck

Hundreds of Utahns gathered at Utah capitol, celebrating the end of Roe v Wade

Hundreds of Utahns gathered to celebrate the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, asking those supporters to show compassion to the opposition.
1 day ago
The Left Fork fire on 06.20.22 as it's 2608 acres and 5% contained. (Credit: KSL-TV)...
Michael Houck

‘Left Fork Fire’ is 100% contained after a two month battle

The Left Fork Fire is 100% contained but flared up again in mid-June, growing to over 4,000 acres.
1 day ago
FILE: Entrance sign at Yellowstone National Park. (NPS/Jacob W. Frank)...
Alex Cabrero

Yellowstone north loop reopens for visitors, removes limited capacity system

Yellowstone National Park reopens its northern loop after floods hit the park in early June.
1 day ago
The aftermath of a car fatal crash, three cars involved....
Michael Houck

One man dead after a three car crash on SR 9

One man is dead after a three-car crash on State Route 9 Friday afternoon. 
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

hand holding 3d rendering mobile connect with security camera for security solutions...
Les Olson

Wondering what security solutions are right for you? Find out more about how to protect your surroundings

Physical security helps everyone. Keep your employees, clients, and customers safe with security solutions that protect your workplace.
Many rattan pendant lights, hay hang from the ceiling.Traditional and simple lighting....
Lighting Design

The Best Ways to Style Rattan Pendant Lighting in Your Home

Rattan pendant lights create a rustic and breezy feel, and are an easy way to incorporate this hot trend into your home decor.
Earth day 2022...
1-800-GOT-JUNK?

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Lighting trends 2022...

Lighting Trends 2022 | 5 Beautiful Home Lighting Trends You Can Expect to See this Year and Beyond

This is where you can see the latest lighting trends for 2022 straight from the Lightovation Show at the Dallas World Trade Center.
What Can't You Throw Away in the Trash...

What Can’t You Throw Away in the Trash? | 5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw in to Your Trash Can

What can't you throw away in the trash? Believe it or not, there are actually many items that shouldn't be thrown straight into the trash.
Official Pleads Not Guilty In Alleged Human Smuggling Scheme