Official for Arizona’s largest county charged in adoption fraud scheme

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The county assessor for Arizona’s largest county was indicted this week on charges of participating in an adoption fraud scheme, according to an indictment from Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R).

Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen (R) is accused of running an adoption law practice that brought women from the Marshall Islands to the U.S. to give birth and then placed the babies for adoption with U.S. parents, according to the indictment.

Petersen is also accused of falsely claiming the Marshall Islands women were Arizona residents to obtain services from the state’s Medicaid system, according to the newspaper.

As well, the county assessor is suspected of having violated a compact that prevents Marshall Islands citizens from coming to the U.S. for the sole purpose of adoption unless they have a special visa.

Petersen has been indicted on 32 counts, including conspiracy, theft, forgery and 29 counts of fraudulent schemes. The investigation also involved the state Department of Public Safety and the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes (R) charged Petersen with 11 felonies, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, including human smuggling, sale of a child and communications fraud, with Reyes’ office alleging the assessor paid more than 40 pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to give up their children for adoption.

“While Mr. Petersen is entitled to a presumption of innocence, our investigation uncovered evidence that he has committed horrible crimes,” Reyes said in a prepared statement. “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.”

The Hill has reached out to Petersen’s office for comment.