Today, the Utah Attorney General’s Office held a press conference to discuss the details of a case involving an alleged illegal adoption scheme and the subsequent 11 felony charges filed against Paul Petersen, an elected County Assessor for Maricopa County Arizona. Petersen was arrested in Arizona Tuesday evening.
Listen to the press conference below:
The files against Petersen include Human Smuggling, Sale of a Child, Communications Fraud, and Pattern of Unlawful Activity.
Allegedly, Petersen recruited, transported, and offered payment to over 40 pregnant Marshallese women to place their babies for adoption in the U.S. Due to a long history of adoption-related exploitation in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, adoptions between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands are governed by an Interstate Compact that prohibits this type of international adoption.
“The commercialization of children is illegal, and the commoditization of children is simply evil,” said Attorney General Sean D. Reyes at the press conference.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office was first made aware of this case after a tip through the AG’s human trafficking tip line from concerned hospital workers in 2017. The AG’s Office worked in conjunction with multiple agencies out of Arkansas, Arizona, and the Marshall Islands. Petersen faces similar charges in both Arizona and Arkansas, making this a multi-state and international investigation.
Attorney General Reyes and AG prosecutors emphasized that there is no interest to “unwind” adoptions that have already taken place.
Daniel Strong, SECURE Strike Force Lead Prosecutor, said, “We don’t anticipate adoptions being overturned, and we are not seeking to overturn any adoptions.”
“Protecting the victims, as in all our cases, is paramount to us,” said Attorney General Reyes, mentioning the birth mothers and families, the children, and the adoptive parents who are equally classified as victims in this case. “We have resources available for all the victims and we will continue to provide these resources to all of the victims throughout this case.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by this case are encouraged to call the hotline set-up by the Attorney General’s Office: 801-839-5640. This hotline is supplied with investigators 24/7 with a Marshallese translator.
Watch the video of the press conference below:
Read the official release below:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 8, 2019
ARIZONA ELECTED OFFICIAL CHARGED WITH HUMAN SMUGGLING, SALE OF CHILDREN
Multiple Charges Filed in Three States
SALT LAKE CITY – This week, the Utah Attorney General’s Office charged Paul D. Petersen with eleven felony offenses, including Human Smuggling, Sale of a Child, and Communications Fraud. Petersen is an adoption lawyer licensed in Utah and Arizona and is the elected County Assessor for Maricopa County, Arizona. He was arrested in Arizona Tuesday evening.
Petersen is alleged to have run an illegal adoption scheme where he recruited, transported, and offered payment to pregnant Marshallese women to give their babies up for adoption in the United States. Due to a long history of adoption-related exploitation in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, adoptions between the United States and the Marshall Islands are governed by an Interstate Compact that prohibits this type of international adoption. In addition, Petersen was charged with communications fraud after he allegedly failed to disclose the compact and other material aspects of his scheme to adoptive parents who paid him to facilitate their adoptions.
Petersen is alleged to have transported over 40 pregnant Marshallese women into Utah over the last three years as part of the scheme.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office worked closely with authorities from Arizona, Arkansas, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands in parallel investigations of this scheme. Petersen faces charges for related offenses in Arkansas and Arizona.
“While Mr. Petersen is entitled to a presumption of innocence, our investigation uncovered evidence that he has committed horrible crimes,” said Attorney General Reyes. “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.”
“It is heartbreaking that these families from both countries were so cruelly manipulated,” Reyes added.
“This case first came to us from concerned hospital workers cold-calling our human trafficking tip line,” said Chief Criminal Deputy Spencer Austin. “We always say, ‘If you see something, say something.’ I think these charges prove that if you do say something, we will listen. We will use every resource at our disposal to put a stop to these horrendous crimes.”
Attorney General Reyes wishes to thank those who came forward to report these crimes, as well as the many different agencies who assisted in this international investigation. Most importantly, the Attorney General thanks the victims of this scheme, for sharing their stories with our investigators.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office has set up a hotline to assist anyone affected by Petersen’s offenses: 801-839-5640. Caseworkers with the Refugee and Immigrant Center – Asian Association of Utah are in place and ready to help any victims of this scheme.