Paul Petersen didn’t neglect official duties, investigators find

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) Paul Petersen, center, an Arizona elected official accused of running a multi-state adoption scheme, leaves court following an initial appearance on charges filed in the state Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Salt Lake City. Prosecutors in three states say Petersen brought pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to the United States and paid them to give up their babies for adoption. He's pleaded not guilty.

Phoenix • Investigators have found no evidence an Arizona official neglected his duties after he was charged with running an adoption-fraud scheme involving women from the Marshall Islands, officials said.

The investigators have said it is up to county supervisors to determine if Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen’s refusal to cooperate in the investigation and his alleged misuse of county resources constitute neglect, the Arizona Capitol Times reported Thursday.

"The ultimate issue the board must decide is whether Mr. Petersen's conduct amounts to 'neglect of duty' within the meaning of (statute). As discussed above, we did not find evidence that Mr. Petersen failed to fulfill any particular statutory obligations of the County Assessor," the investigators said in a report.

The Arizona Capitol Times obtained a copy of the report.

Petersen is accused of smuggling and paying pregnant women from the small nation in the western Pacific to give up their children for adoption in the U.S. He faces a total of 62 charges in Arkansas, Arizona and Utah.

The report affirms his client's argument that his suspension from office has no basis, Peterson's attorney Kory Langhofer said.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors suspended Petersen last month from his assessor position without pay for 120 days, officials said. Peterson is challenging his suspension.

Two private law firms investigated if Petersen, a Republican, neglected his duties, and now supervisors must make a decision based on the results of that investigation, officials said.

According to the report, county supervisors may suspend Petersen for "defalcation or neglect of duty," but the statutes do not define the meaning of the terms, officials said.

"No matter how badly the Board of Supervisors wishes to overturn the decision of Maricopa County voters, facts are stubborn things and today's report confirms what we have been saying for weeks: Paul Petersen is the duly elected Assessor – and by all accounts, he has performed his duties well," Langhofer said. "Given the conclusions of the attorney paid by the county, we're even more confident that a neutral tribunal would rule in our favor."

Petersen is free on bail after being booked into federal custody in Arkansas.

His suspension appeal hearing is set for Dec. 11.

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