Human Trafficking – Mormon Style: Elected Arizona official Paul Petersen, a Mormon, has been charged with bribing and deceiving pregnant women from the Marshall Islands into giving up their children for adoption, and selling the babies to Mormon families in the U.S.
Arizona Republic reports:
Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen, who was arrested Oct. 8 in Mesa, is facing state and federal charges in three states in connection with an adoption scheme stretching from the Republic of the Marshall Islands to Arizona, Arkansas and Utah.
Associated Press reports:
Petersen, a Republican, has been indicted in federal court in Arkansas and also charged in Arizona and Utah with crimes that include human smuggling, sale of a child, fraud, forgery and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The Independent reports:
(Petersen) allegedly ran a human smuggling scheme which brought dozens of pregnant women from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean to the US.
The expectant mothers were crammed into homes owned or rented by Petersen, often with little or no prenatal care.
They were then paid to give up their newborn babies for adoption to families in Utah, Arkansas and Arizona.
The case involves at least 75 adoptions over three years, according to authorities.
Petersen is a Mormon, and served as a Mormon missionary for two years in the Marshall Islands, where he developed the contacts and cultural knowledge crucial to his human trafficking scheme.
The Phoenix New Times reports many of the American parents who adopted children via Petersen are also members of the Mormon church.Prosecutors say Petersen charged the families $25,000 to $40,000 per adoption.
A Georgia woman who adopted a baby through Petersen told KTVK-TV:
He was actually a really good attorney, which is the really sad part about this. I think greed is what destroyed him. A lot of my friends raved about him. And then him being county assessor, trusted him. I thought that there’s no way that this guy is not legitimate.
Commenting on the story in a prepared statement, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said:
While Mr. Petersen is entitled to a presumption of innocence, our investigation uncovered evidence that he has committed horrible crimes. Petersen’s illegal adoption scheme exploited highly vulnerable groups in two countries — the birth mothers and families in the Marshall Islands and the adoptive parents here in Utah.
Currently Petersen is in federal custody, and has been suspended from his position as Maricopa County Assessor.
Bottom line: Arizona official Paul Petersen has been charged with bribing and deceiving pregnant women from the Marshall Islands into giving up their children for adoption, and selling the babies to Mormon families in the U.S.