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Former Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen pleads guilty to fraud in adoption scheme case

Paul Petersen pleads guilty to charges in AZ, UT, and AK
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Posted at 12:37 PM, Jun 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-02 19:50:18-05

Former lawyer and Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen has pleaded guilty to multiple charges in Arizona, Arkansas, and Utah, part of various plea agreements, related to his alleged adoption fraud scheme involving pregnant women from the Marshall Islands being brought to the U.S. to give birth and, in some cases, those children being put up for adoption.

On Thursday, June 18, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced that Petersen pleaded guilty to four felonies: fraudulent schemes and artifices, fraudulent schemes and practices, forgery, and fraudulent schemes and practices.

As part of his plea agreement, Petersen will be required to pay $650,000 in retribution to Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), the state's Medicaid agency, $11,000 to an uncharged victim, and $18,000 to the Attorney General's office to cover the investigative costs.

On Friday, June 19, the Utah Attorney General's Office said Peterson pleaded guilty to three counts of human smuggling and one count of communications fraud, part of a plea agreement.

On Wednesday, June 24, the United States Department of Justice's Western District of Arkansas said that Petersen pleaded guilty to a federal charge of "conspiracy to smuggle illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain."

Sentencing in all three cases has not been yet been scheduled.

However, in Arizona, Petersen faces between three and 12 years in the Arizona Department of Corrections, plus up to an additional four years.

Utah's Attorney General has asked for the maximum sentence, which includes up to 15 years in prison, a $50,000 fine, and Petersen's forfeiture of his law license and ability to practice or facilitate adoption in Utah, a news release said.

In his federal case, he faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000, according to a news release.

The Utah Attorney General's Office said Petersen would be expected to serve his federal sentence first, and that his sentencing would run concurrently with the state sentencings.

Petersen resigned as the Maricopa County Assessor earlier this year. Prior to that, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted to suspend him.