Arizona official accused of human smuggling via a Marshall Islands adoption scheme
(CNN) An Arizona county assessor is accused of human smuggling as part of a scheme that involved more than 40 pregnant women from the Marshall Islands brought to the United States to give up their babies for adoption, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
Paul D. Petersen, an adoption lawyer licensed in Utah and Arizona and elected Maricopa County assessor, was arrested Tuesday night in Arizona, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes told reporters. He faces 11 felony counts in Utah, including human smuggling, sale of a child and communications fraud. He also faces fraud, conspiracy, theft and forgery charges in Arizona.
Petersen's illegal adoption scheme allegedly involved the recruitment, transportation and payments to dozens of pregnant women from the islands in the central Pacific , according to Reyes.
"The commercialization of children is illegal and the commoditization of children is simply evil," Reyes said.
The investigation, which also includes Arkansas, dates to October 2017 when the Utah attorney general's human trafficking tip line began receiving calls about suspicious births and adoptions involving Marshallese women, authorities said.
"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," Reyes said.
At a hearing in Arizona on Tuesday, Matthew Long, Petersen's attorney, called his client's actions "proper business practices" and said they "look forward to challenging" the allegations in court. He described Petersen's $500,000 cash bond as "curious and troubling."
Long did not respond to a request ...
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