Former Arizona official Paul Petersen got six years of smuggling pregnant women to the U.S. to sell their babies

A six-year-old Arizona man who smuggled pregnant women into America as part of an illegal adoption that operated in three states and helped him lead a luxury lifestyle was sentenced to six years.

Former Maricopa County Republican appraiser and adoption attorney Paul Petersen pleaded guilty in June to paying mothers in the United States for mothers from the Marshall Islands, an island chain between Hawaii and the Philippines, in exchange for thousands of dollars for adoptive families.

At the hearing, Petersen denied that he knew that his employees employed in the adoption fraud had forced these women by threatening to take their passports if they tried to withdraw from the business.

“I treated everyone with respect in their situation, on all sides of the adoption,” Petersen told the court. “I tried to promote respect for the marshal’s culture. I got adoptions because I simply loved the Marshall Islands and the Marshalleans. “

“If even one of these beautiful ladies feels abused, that’s too much,” added Petersen, a father of four and a licensed attorney in Arkansas, Arizona and Utah. He is said to have attended the adoption in Marshalles in 1998 while working as a missionary on the islands through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks sentenced Petersen to 74 months in federal prison and a $ 105,100 fine (“conspiracy to smuggle illegal aliens for private gain”). Petersen’s sentence of three years is a supervised release after leaving Arizona federal prison.

Prosecutors accused Petersen of falsifying records, lying to state court judges, and instructing pregnant women to lie as part of the system. According to David Clay Fowlkes, a first assistant to a U.S. attorney in the western district of Arkansas, Petersen also “manipulated mothers to agree to adoption, which they don’t fully understand.”

In a penitentiary memorandum submitted this month, prosecutors said Petersen’s operation exploited poor women who did not speak English and threatened them if they tried to get out of the adoption. They said the program helped fund the lavish lifestyle of Petersen and his family, which meant multiple residences, trips to New York and California, luxury cars, and “a great residence in Arizona in an exclusive, closed community”.

“The people who took them to the United States threatened to call the police and prosecute them if they tried to step back from the adoption process,” the government added in the memorandum. “These conditions prevented them from escaping as safely as if they were chained to a wall.

According to the memorandum, the $ 10,000 that Petersen offered to women is “an amount of money that simply could not be rejected by people who lived in poverty on a remote island.”

“Notably, however, the parent mothers actually received far less than they were promised and deducted from the promised salary the‘ cost of living ’, the cost of living that resulted from living in deplorable, crowded houses alongside other pregnant women,” they added. the prosecutors of the document.

On Tuesday, Brooks said Petersen transported illegally “vulnerable” women in 25 to 99 separate cases, even though the base agreement included only four cases. “The side effect of adoption was a criminal livelihood,” Brooks said.

The judge continued: “You have sought to enter politics. You wanted all the beautiful things in life that needed money and you were wrong somewhere. … He became complicit in the sale of infants.

The indictment, repealed in October 2019, said Petersen, his alleged accomplice, Maki Takehisa, and others helped transport four pregnant women, and as early as April 2014, they “concealed the real purpose of their trip” from U.S. officials.

Under the 2003 agreement with the Republic of Marshall Islands, citizens of Marshallese may enter the United States for employment, but are prohibited from entering America for adoption.

In one case, Petersen paid for a woman identified as RMJ to fly to Arkansas in April 2014. The woman gave birth to her baby boy in a local hospital in July 2014, and six days later a boy was adopted by a U.S. family. the procedure submitted by Petersen as a ‘licensed lawyer’ is set out in the legal basis agreement.

Takehisa offered to pay $ 10,000 for his trip and contribute to the adoption. RMJ returned to the Marshall Islands in August 2014, and the adoptive family paid $ 13,300 to Petersen for his role in organizing the adoption. (The legal basis agreement does not state whether RMJ has received the full $ 10,000 offered to it.)

Petersen also paid a woman named AT about $ 7,300 while she was in America to give up her baby boy. The woman was in a small residence in Dequeen, Arkansas, with nine other pregnant women from Marshallese at the end of 2014, and an adoptive family paid Petersen $ 27,000 for her work in securing the adoption of her AT child.

Meanwhile, a woman referred to as RJ flew to Arkansas in February 2015 and gave birth to a girl months later. He was also in the cramped Dequeen residence. A family paid Petersen $ 30,000 to arrange the girl’s adoption, and Petersen paid $ 10,300.

In a fourth case, Petersen paid a DJ to fly to Arkansas in March 2015, and a family adopted his newborn son in May of that year. The family paid Petersen $ 32,000 and DJ $ 10,800, according to the legal basis agreement.

Fowlkes noted that some women have doubts about adoption and have been told they can no longer change their minds about giving up babies.

According to him, Petersen “found a loophole that allowed him to run an adoption company with zero supervision.” Petersen brought women to the United States without a visa and made sure babies were born in America to be automatically citizens, Fowlkes said. Petersen and his agents applied for public health care for the women, so he should not have covered the women’s expensive hospital bills.

“The accused did this for one reason and only one reason: for the money,” Fowlkes said, adding, “It was a quick enrichment that hid behind the pinnacle of a humanitarian operation.”