Former Arizona official sentenced to prison for ‘baby mill’ adoption

CITY OF SALT – A former Arizona official is accused of running an illegal adoption system in three states and smuggling dozens of pregnant women to Utah from the Marshall Islands.

A Arkansas federal judge sentenced Paul Petersen, 45, to six years in prison on Tuesday, followed by three years in supervised release. The judge also ordered him to pay a fine and paid a total of $ 105,100 in court costs.

Peterson had previously pleaded guilty to committing a crime of smuggling illegal aliens for commercial gain and private gain in the U.S. District Court for Arkansas.

“The defendant in this case violated the laws of three states and two countries during his crime,” said David Clay Fowlkes, an assistant attorney in Arkansas, USA. “Under the system, the accused lied to state court judges, falsified records, incited others to lie during court proceedings, and consented to mothers adopting, which they did not fully understand.”

Prosecutors say it has illegally paid Marshallese women up to $ 10,000 to have their children in the United States and give them up for adoption.

Petersen worked as a Maricopa County expert and was an adoptive attorney in Utah, Arizona and Arkansas. In the past, he was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Marshall Islands.

Utah investigators have detected an influx of Marshallese women giving birth and adopting infants at several hospitals in Wasatch Front. They all reported living in the same West Valley house owned by Petersen.

For one adoptive couple who visited the parent after she was born to investigators, the house looked like a “baby mill”.

The couple saw more than 15 pregnant women at home, many of whom had to sleep on mattresses on a bare floor. Investigators say women who arrived in Utah at the end of their pregnancies received little or no pregnancy care.

In June, Peterson filed criminal charges in the 3rd District Court of Salt Lake City for three human trafficking, third-degree crime, and communications fraud, second-degree crime. The punishment is scheduled for next month.

Petersen resigned from his elected office in Arizona in January. He pleaded guilty in that state to contributing to state-funded health care for adoptive mothers, even though he knew the women did not live in Arizona.