Former Arizona Official and Private Adoption Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Illegal Adoptions

Private adoption attorney pleads guilty

A former elected official from Arizona, Paul D. Petersen, who is also a private adoption lawyer, plead guilty to federal charges in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, Arkansas for his part in an illegal adoption scheme. Authorities said he plead guilty to a federal human smuggling conspiracy charge, following similar guilty pleas in Utah and Arizona.

Petersen, 44, who was elected assessor in Maricopa County in 2014 and reelected in 2016, was paid up to $30,000 to bring pregnant women into the U.S. illegally to give birth and adopt their children. The four pregnant women Petersen involved in the scheme, all citizens of the Marshall Islands, did not obtain visas to travel to the U.S. for the purpose of adoption. Petersen illegally paid for travel expenses.

Officials say Petersen was paid up to $30,000 to be a “legal facilitator” of this adoption process, and the pregnant women were paid $7,300 and $10,800. Records show for three of the adoptions there is an average of $13,000 in expenses labeled “assistants and fee.”

David Clay Fowlkes, the acting United States attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, told the New York Times, “This plea agreement is one more step on a long road towards putting an end to the illegal adoption practices that have long plagued the Marshallese community in our district.”

Fowlkes also said in the interview that none of the adoptions, which took place in Arkansas in 2014 and 2015, will be affected by Petersen’s plea, explaining the adoptive parents and birth mothers are all “very vulnerable victims” of these crimes. Meanwhile, Petersen’s lawyer, Kurt M. Altman says the birth mothers were “not mistreated” and denies his client was aware of any wrongdoing, although “I think he realizes now.”

Other federal charges will be dismissed against Petersen after sentencing as a result of his guilty plea. He faces up to 10 years in prison and fines amounting to $250,000.