They Hoped to Adopt. They Walked Into a 'Baby Mill'

Ex-Arizona official jailed for 'baby-selling' scheme prosecutors say spanned 3 states
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 2, 2020 11:40 AM CST
Updated Dec 5, 2020 7:00 AM CST
Ex-Arizona Official Jailed for 'Baby-Selling' Scheme
In this Nov. 5, 2019, file photo, former Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen, right, is shown with his attorney after a court hearing in Phoenix.   (AP Photo/Jacques Billeaud, File)

A former Arizona elected official and adoption lawyer has been sentenced to six years in prison in Arkansas for what prosecutors say was a scheme that involved smuggling dozens of pregnant women from the Marshall Islands into US states to give birth, reports the Washington Post. Paul Petersen, 45, "subverted what should be a joyous time for everyone into a baby-selling enterprise," US District Judge Timothy L. Brooks said at Tuesday's hearing, per USA Today. More:

  • David Clay Fowlkes, assistant US attorney in Arkansas, says Petersen, of Mesa, Ariz., "violated the laws of three states and two countries" during a scheme in which he "lied to state court judges, falsified records, encouraged others to lie during court proceedings, and manipulated birth mothers into consenting to adoptions they did not fully understand."
  • Investigators found several Marshallese women had given birth at hospitals in Utah's Wasatch Front region; all of the women reported living at the same home. It was owned by Petersen, a Maricopa County assessor, who was licensed to practice law in Arizona, Arkansas, and Utah and had previously served as a Mormon missionary in the Marshall Islands.

  • One couple who visited a birth mother at the West Valley City home saw more than 15 pregnant women, some of whom were sleeping on mattresses on the floor, reports the Deseret News. The couple told investigators the home seemed like a "baby mill." Prosecutors cited at least 70 adoption cases in Arizona, Utah, and Arkansas over three years.
  • They say Petersen paid the women up to $10,000 to give birth in the US and put their babies up for adoption. Many of the poor, uneducated women couldn't refuse such a sum, they add. And they were threatened with arrest and had their passports seized so they couldn't change their minds, per AZ Family. This "prevented their escape as securely as if they were chained to a wall," prosecutors say.
  • The women didn't get all of the $10,000. "Living expenses which consisted of them being housed in deplorable, crowded homes with other pregnant women" were deducted, prosecutors say, per the Daily Beast.
  • Petersen, however, had accepted up to $40,000 from adoption clients in the US, claiming the money would go toward the mothers' care, reports the Post. Prosecutors argue the women actually received little prenatal care, while Petersen used the earnings to finance vacation homes, trips, and luxury cars.
  • The father of four was disbarred and resigned as Maricopa County assessor in January, following indictments in Arkansas, Arizona, and Utah, per the Post. He pleaded guilty to fraud and smuggling charges in June.
  • He was sentenced to six years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $105,100 in Arkansas on Tuesday. He's due to be sentenced in Arizona on Jan. 22 and in Utah on Jan. 20, per AZ Family.
(More adoption stories.)

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