Paul Petersen, a 45-year-old Arizona adoption attorney, was sentenced to a 6-year minimum prison sentence and over $100,000 in fines in connection to an adoption scheme involving women from the Marshall Islands.
On Tuesday, Petersen, who spent 12 years smuggling pregnant women into the United States and made hefty profits selling their babies, received the first of an expected three sentences from a federal judge in the Western District of Arkansas.
Petersen was arrested in October 2019, and at the time he held an assessor position for Maricopa County. He resigned in January 2020 and entered a guilty plea in June.
District Judge Timothy L. Brooks stated: "He subverted what should be a joyous time for everyone into a baby-selling enterprise. The conduct Mr. Petersen engaged in violates public policy. We don't sell babies. That is the public policy of the United States of America."
For over a decade, Petersen operated the scheme by building a network of women who were in communication with a co-conspirator in the Republic of Marshall Islands, USA Today reported. The individual was the point of contact for the pregnant women who were looking to come to the U.S., and according to the Washington Post, about 40 women were brought into the country over the years.
Petersen would contact the women directly, and he would then organize and cover their travel expenses – obtaining passports and organizing their flights into Arkansas, Arizona, or Utah. There, a number of pregnant Marshallese women would share the home he financed.
During their stay in the U.S., Petersen falsified documents pertaining to their stay to secure Medicaid to cover the expenses of the child’s birth. He would also confiscate their passports to make sure they went through with the scheme, the Washington Post reported.
Once the baby’s care was secured, Petersen would charge the unsuspecting adoptive families up to $40,000 for adoption, maintaining that the cash would cover the mother’s expenses. Following the adoption, he would pay the woman less than $10,000 for their role, pay for their flight back home or to any state they wanted, and pocket the remainder of the cash.
In addition to smuggling pregnant women into the country and keeping them in poor conditions, Petersen was also in violation of a 1983 agreement between the Republic of Marshall Islands and the U.S., which bars people from traveling between the two countries for the purpose of effectuating an adoption.
“The defendant, in this case, violated the laws of three states and two countries during the course of his criminal scheme,” stated U.S. Assistant Attorney David Clay Fowlkes.
This is not Petersen’s last court appearance, as he pleaded guilty in Arizona and Utah in June and is still awaiting sentencing in both states. He has 14 days to appeal the sentence, USA Today reported.
Sources: America Now