Arizona Official Accused of Arranging 28 Fraudulent Adoptions

Paul Petersen

Paul Petersen

Officials in three states say they will not try to interfere with dozens of adoptions done as part of a human smuggling scheme that led to charges against Maricopa County Assessor Paul D. Petersen.

An indictment from the U.S. District Court for Western Arkansas outlined an immigration scheme whereby pregnant mothers from the Republic of the Marshall Islands were paid to fly to the United States, hide their pregnancies, and put their babies up for adoption in the U.S.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes talks about the case against Paul D. Petersen during a news conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on October 9, 2019. USA TODAY reports that Petersen arranged for 28 pregnant Marshallese women to travel to the United States to put their children up for adoption.

Petersen's attorney, Matthew Long, defended his client's actions during a court hearing in Phoenix Wednesday.

Petersen charged families $25,000-$40,000 per adoption and brought about $2.7 million into a bank account for adoption fees in less than two years, according to court documents.

KPHO reported Petersen served a two-year mission in the Marshall Islands for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Michaela Montie said she created Shared Beginnings to "offer our services and support to expecting mothers who don't have anywhere to turn or adoptive parents who don't know what to do with this news". One family told investigators that they went to visit a birth mother at the home she was staying in and saw "15 or more pregnant women living there".

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Numerous women were crammed into houses and were even forced to sleep on a mattress laid on a bare floor in one home, according to the AP.

The new owner of the home, located in a working class area in suburban Salt Lake City, said that since purchasing it she has found trash like dirty diapers in the bushes.

Together, Petersen and Takehisa are facing nineteen charges relating to alien smuggling, wire fraud, mail fraud, and visa fraud in the District Court for Western Arkansas. "It makes me sick to my stomach".

Investigators started looking into the Republican - a licensed adoption lawyer in Utah, Arizona and Arkansas - after a hospital worker in Utah called a tip line to report a possible illegal adoption involving a Marshallese woman.

The scheme defrauded Arizona's Medicaid system of $800,000 because the women had no intention of remaining in the state when they applied, according to Arizona prosecutors.

According to authorities, the Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands prohibits the Marshallese from travelling to the United States for the objective of adoption. "It is also worth repeating that despite what some may say to keep women in a specific adoption plan, no one is going to jail for getting help".

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