Utah charges Maricopa Co., AZ official with human smuggling in adoption scheme

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Attorney General's Office confirmed to FOX 13 on Tuesday night it had filed numerous criminal charges against an Arizona politician accused of human smuggling in an adoption scheme.

Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen was charged with human smuggling, sale of a child and communications fraud, the Utah Attorney General's Office told FOX 13. Authorities conducted a raid in the Phoenix area on his home and businesses linked to him, according to FOX 13's sister station in Arizona.

He was also facing criminal charges in Phoenix. Investigators with the Utah Attorney General's Office were in Arizona for the raid, FOX 13 confirmed. The agency said Petersen was arrested Tuesday night in Arizona.

FOX 13's sister station ABC 15 reported that an indictment in Arizona accused Petersen and another person of conspiracy, fraudulent schemes and practices, theft and forgery. He was accused of bringing women in from the Marshall Islands to give up children for adoption, arranging their travel out of that state but also applying for benefits for the women by claiming they were Arizona residents.

In Utah, Petersen is accused of running an adoption scheme where he recruited women from the Marshall Islands to also give up their babies for adoption in the U.S. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes' office said he is accused of transporting more than 40 pregnant women to Utah over the past three years.

"While Mr. Petersen is entitled to a presumption of innocence, our investigation uncovered evidence that he has committed horrible crimes," said Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes in a 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."

Due to a long history of adoption-related exploitation in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, adoptions between the United States and the Marshall Islands are governed by an agreement that prohibits this type of international adoption, the attorney general's office said.

Further details of Petersen's arrest and the charges were to be released at a news conference between Utah and Arizona officials on Wednesday.

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