Petersen, an adoption lawyer licensed in Arizona and Utah, is facing similar charges in Utah, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The 32-count indictment filed in the Superior Court of Arizona alleges Petersen committed conspiracy, fraud and forgery. Petersen and another person, Lynwood Jennet, are accused of committing fraudulent schemes and artifices for organizing travel for women from the Marshall Islands, a country of volcanic islands between Hawaii and the Philippines, to give up their children for adoption in Arizona.
Petersen and Jennet claimed the pregnant women were Arizona residents so they could receive medical services from Arizona’s Medicaid system, according to the indictment.
Jennet worked for the law office of Paul D. Petersen, according to Phoenix’s KPHO-TV.
In Utah, the attorney general alleges Petersen transported more than 40 women from the Marshall Islands to have their children in the state. They were paid to give up their children for adoption, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Petersen is charged with communications fraud, human smuggling and sale of a child in Utah.
Petersen’s failure to tell his clients seeking to adopt about his scheme led to his communications fraud charge, according to the Tribune.
Sean Reyes, Utah’s attorney general, told the Tribune Petersen’s alleged schemes exploited the birth mothers and families from the Marshall Islands and the adoptive parents in Utah.
The tiny string of islands had the highest per capita adoption rate in the world in 1999, the Honolulu Civil Beat reported last year.
The United States and the Marshall Islands entered an agreement known as the Compact of Free Association, which had a subsection that prohibited Marshall Islands citizens from traveling to the United States solely for adoption purposes. It was amended in 2003.
News conferences in Arizona and Utah are scheduled for Wednesday.
Petersen was first elected to the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office in 2014 and was reelected in 2016. He was the assessor’s representative at the Arizona Legislature and the public information officer before taking on his role, according to his website.
The father of four has been working with families seeking to adopt for almost 15 years. The fifth-generation Arizonan is also an active member of the Maricopa County Republican Party and the Arizona Republican Party.