Official quits amid charges he paid women to give up babies

PHOENIX — An elected official in metro Phoenix has resigned months after being charged with running a human smuggling operation that paid pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to give up their babies in the U.S.

The resignation of Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen on Tuesday came after leaders in the one of the nation's most populous counties suspended him and have pressured him to resign since his arrest nearly three months ago. The county's governing board voted in late December to start the process of removing Petersen, who also works as an adoption attorney.

He is accused of illegally paying women from the Pacific island nation to come to the United States to give up their babies in at least 70 adoption cases in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas over three years.

Citizens of the Marshall Islands have been prohibited from traveling to the U.S. for adoption purposes since 2003.

Petersen is charged with human smuggling in Utah and Arkansas and defrauding Arizona's Medicaid system by $800,000 by submitting false applications for the women to receive state-funded health coverage.

Authorities say the women who went to Utah to give birth received little to no prenatal care. They also said Petersen and his associates took passports from the pregnant women while they were in the U.S. to assert more control over them.

Petersen has pleaded not guilty to the charges in Arizona and Arkansas. He hasn't yet entered a plea in Utah.

His attorneys have said Petersen ran a legal adoption practice and has been vilified before his side of the story comes out. They had argued that the county governing board had no basis for suspending him.

Petersen, a Republican whose office determines the property values in Arizona’s most populous county, which includes Phoenix, previously rejected calls to resign and was fighting his 120-day unpaid suspension.

Thousands of files related to his adoption business were discovered on his government laptop, cementing the board’s push to remove him. Content recovered on the laptop included text messages of pregnant women being threatened when they changed their minds about giving up their newborns.

Petersen, who was paid $77,000 a year in his government job, won a 2014 special election to be assessor and was re-elected in 2016. His term was scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christs of Latter-day Saints, he completed a proselytizing mission in the Marshall Islands, a collection of atolls and islands in the eastern Pacific.

Lynwood Jennet, who was accused of helping Petersen in the scheme, pleaded guilty last month in Arizona to helping arrange state-funded health coverage for the expectant mothers, even though the women didn't live in the state. She has agreed to testify against Petersen.

Related News

Clinton offers plan to prevent 'excessive' drug price hikes

Sep 2, 2016

Hillary Clinton is pledging to better protect patients from steep increases in the cost of drugs

Put it on my card...or not

Sep 4, 2016

What to consider before paying for college tuition with a credit card

ITT Tech shutters all campuses after federal aid sanctions

Sep 6, 2016

The for-profit college chain ITT Educational Services is shutting down its campuses days after the U.S. Department of Education banned it from enrolling new students who use federal financial aid

About PROFIT & COST

Profit and Cost is the personal business & financial assistance for individuals considering to improve their profits and lowering the cost in their everyday life.

Contact us: sales@profitandcost.com