SALT LAKE CITY — Paul Petersen, a former Maricopa County Assessor in Arizona, was been sentenced in Utah Wednesday for his involvement in an adoption scheme that involved bringing women from the Marshall Islands to Utah to give birth, and then selling the babies to families in the United States.
Petersen pleaded guilty to human smuggling and communication fraud charges Wednesday. He received the maximum sentence and was given one to 15 years in prison.
His sentence will run concurrently with a five-year prison term in Arizona and a six-year term in federal custody for the Arkansas case. In total, Petersen will spend between 11 and 15 years in custody between all three states.
“Utah was proud to lead the way on this investigation,” said Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes in a press release. “We were pleased to bring Arizona and Arkansas into our case and get convictions and significant sentences in both those states too.”
Petersen was accused of bringing at least 40 pregnant women to Utah from the Marshall Islands and promising them $10,000 in exchange for placing their baby up for adoption. Prosecutors say very few of them actually got the money they were promised.
The illegal adoption scheme violated international policies that regulate adoptions between the United States and the Marshall Islands, due to cultural differences in adoption practices and history of adoption abuses.
In addition to victimizing women from the Marshall Islands, Petersen also defrauded many Utah families who paid $40,000 to adopt the children. Families who adopted the babies were not properly informed about "legitimacy of the adoption, the prenatal care provided to the birth mothers, and other material details," the Attorney General's Office reported.
“This case has been a priority for our office for many years. Today, we feel there is a bit more closure," Reyes said in a press release. "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.”