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Man who pleaded guilty in multi-state adoption scheme sentenced

Apr 21, 2021, 4:12 PM
adoption scheme sentencing...
FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2019, file photo, then-Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen leaves court in Salt Lake City. The former elected official from metro Phoenix accused of running an illegal adoption scheme in three states involving women from the Marshall Islands pleaded guilty Thursday, June 18 , 2020, to fraud charges. Petersen could serve between 11 and 15 years for the state and federal charges. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — A former Arizona county official who pleaded guilty in a multi-state adoption fraud scheme was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison Wednesday. 

A multi-state adoption scheme

Paul Petersen served as the Maricopa County, Arizona assessor at the time of his arrest. He pleaded guilty last year to the illegal transportation of pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to the United States for pricey private adoptions. 

According to a release from the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the “scheme violated international regulations seeking to regulate adoptions between the United States and the Marshall Islands, due to cultural differences in adoption practices and a long history of adoption abuses.” 

Previous coverage: Ex-politician in adoption scheme to be sentenced in 3 states

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said Petersen defrauded a number of Utah couples. Each couple paid $40,000 for the adoptions, prenatal care for the pregnant women, and more. 

“Utah was proud to lead the way on this investigation,” Reyes said in the statement. “We were pleased to bring Arizona and Arkansas into our case and get convictions and significant sentences in both those states too.” 

An “egregious” abuse

Reyes noted the importance of providing closure to the families affected by the fraud. 

“Trying to protect child victims every day is emotionally and physically draining. But, as a team, we are encouraged that a maximum sentence in Utah validates the seriousness of these crimes and the hard work so many have invested in this case,” Reyes said.  

Reyes praised nurses and other medical personnel who helped bring the adoption scheme to the attention of authorities. 

Read more: Judge decides 19 adoption cases will be ruled individually in human trafficking accusation

Assistant Attorney General Daniel Strong, who prosecuted the case, called the crime an “egregious” abuse of the adoption process. 

“Petersen exploited families in the Marshall Islands and Utah to benefit himself financially,” Strong said. “We hope this sentence will help put an end to these types of adoption abuses.” 

Petersen will serve 1 to 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence for human smuggling and communications fraud, after his sentencing in Utah’s Third District Court. That sentence will run concurrently with a five-year prison term from charges in Arizona, and six years in federal custody stemming from charges out of Arkansas.

In all, he could serve between 11 and 15 years for the multi-state adoption scheme. 

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Man who pleaded guilty in multi-state adoption scheme sentenced