Utah’s attorney general charges Arizona elected official with human smuggling and the sale of children

(Photo courtesy of the Utah Attorney General's Office) Paul Petersen

Update: Utah authorities believe Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen smuggled at least 40 pregnant women from the Marshall Islands into Utah as part of an illegal adoption scheme. Read the latest update to this story here.

The elected county assessor of Arizona’s Maricopa County, was arrested Tuesday and charged with 11 felonies related to an alleged illegal adoption scheme, according to the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

The charges against Paul Petersen — an adoption lawyer licensed in Utah and Arizona — include communications fraud, human smuggling and sale of a child.

The Attorney General’s Office alleges that over the past three years, Petersen recruited more than 40 pregnant women from the Marshall Islands and transported them to Utah, where they were paid to give up their children for adoption. Peterson also allegedly failed to disclose the nature of the scheme to his client adoptive parents, leading to the charges of communications fraud.

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

Reyes will hold a news conference Wednesday at the state Capitol, during which additional details of Petersen’s arrest and charges will be disclosed. The Attorney General’s Office has also established a hotline to assist anyone affected by Petersen’s alleged offenses, which can be reached at 801-839-5640.