A former politician in Arizona has been sentenced to six years behind bars for running an illegal baby-selling scheme that involved bringing expecting mothers into the United States from the Marshall Islands and then paying them in exchange for their newborn infants.
Paul Petersen, once the assessor for Maricopa County and a licensed adoption attorney, was also fined more than $100,000 for what prosecutors described as a “get-rich-quick scheme” he kept “hidden behind the shiny veneer of a humanitarian operation,” the Arizona Central reported. He was arrested last year and charged in Utah, Arizona and Arkansas on criminal counts including human smuggling, the sale of a child, fraud, forgery and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The charges stem from an estimated 70 illegal adoptions orchestrated by Petersen over the course of about three years. Prosecutors said the 45-year-old republican paid pregnant women from the Republic of the Marshall Islands to travel to the United States to give birth, and then charged parents a fee of up to $40,000 for the adoption.
Petersen reportedly became involved in Marshallese adoptions in 1998, through his work on the islands as a missionary with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Upon his return to the United States, he almost immediately became involved in the adoption industry.
Citizens of the Marshall Islands — a string of islands between Hawaii and the Philippines — can travel to and work in the U.S. freely under the Compact of Free Association. In 2003, however, the agreement between the two countries was amended to ban women from traveling for adoption purposes.
“He exploited a legal loophole and used it to run an International adoption business outside the necessary oversight from the United States or the Republic of the Marshall Islands,” said First Assistant United States Attorney David Fowlkes.
“During the scheme, the defendant lied to state court judges, falsified records, encouraged others to lie during court proceedings, and manipulated birth mothers into consenting to adoptions they did not fully understand.”
Ex-Arizona official gets more than six years behind bars for baby-selling scheme
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