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Government official in Arizona indicted in adoption fraud scheme

Posted at 7:01 PM, Oct 09, 2019

Authorities say Maricopa County Assessor Paul D. Petersen has been indicted in an adoption fraud scheme.

The Department of Public Safety raided Petersen's home and businesses on Tuesday evening.

During that raid, eight pregnant Marshallese women were located.

According to the Attorney General's Office, the raids are related to a multi-state investigation, arrest, and criminal indictment involving Petersen and another person -- Lynwood Jennet. Petersen also faces charges for related offenses in Arkansas and Utah.

According to the indictment, Petersen and Jennet face 32 counts, including conspiracy, fraudulent schemes and practices, theft, and forgery.

Officials say in addition to being County Assessor for Maricopa County, Petersen is also an adoption lawyer.

In a press conference held Wednesday, Attorney General Mark Brnovich said none of the women who gave birth did anything illegal, and none of the families that adopted children are accused of any crimes. Adoptions that are pending in other states involving children from these schemes will be looked at on a case by case basis.

The indictment states, "Petersen and Jennet facilitated travel for pregnant women from the Republic of the Marshall Islands to come to Arizona for the purpose of giving a child up for adoption."

After the birth of the child, Petersen and Jennet would facilitate travel for the women to leave Arizona.

In addition, one of the charges states the couple attempted to deceive the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System by applying for benefits for these women by stating they were Arizona residents.

The Utah Attorney General's Office says they have charged Petersen with 11 felony offenses, including human smuggling, sale of a child, and communications fraud.

Utah officials say, "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."

Officials say adoptions between the United States and the Marshall Islands are prohibited. Petersen is also accused of communications fraud for allegedly failing to disclose material aspects of his scheme to adoptive parents.

Authorities say they were first alerted to the scheme by concerned hospital workers who called a human trafficking tip line.

Officials say Peterson was arrested in California Tuesday night.