Maricopa County Republicans, wow! First y’all offer up Joe Arpaio, and now you have Paul Petersen, the Maricopa County tax assessor who this week was indicted on charges that in addition to his elected position, he also ran an adoption and human smuggling scheme—in which he allegedly paid pregnant women from the Marshall Islands thousands of dollars to come the United States to give birth and then put the babies up for adoption, oftentimes forcing them to sleep in crammed rooms and without adequate medical care.
On Tuesday, Arizona state troopers searched one of his properties, and found eight pregnant Marshallese women; several more are currently living in Utah. Authorities in Utah, Arizona, and Arkansas have charged Petersen, as well as his alleged co-conspirator Lynwood Jennet, with more than 30 counts including human smuggling, sale of a child, fraud, forgery, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. One of those counts? Scamming Arizona’s Medicaid program, as Petersen is also alleged to have falsely claimed the women were eligible for state-funded medical benefits. (This is, admittedly, the least of the charges in my opinion—all people deserve health care!—but it’s nothing if not laughable that a Republican elected official is the one who is accused of actually defrauding Medicaid.)
Petersen, who had spent two years in the Marshall Islands as part of his missionary work as a Mormon, worked in private practice as an adoption attorney. According to authorities, in recent years, he leaned on his connections as well as his ability to speak Marshallese to set up his adoption scheme. More details of his operation, via the AP:
Prosecutors say Petersen used associates to recruit pregnant women by offering many of them $10,000 each to give up their babies for adoption. Petersen would pay for the women to travel to the United States days or months before giving birth and live in a home that he owned until delivering the baby, according to the court records.
The expectant mothers were often crowded in the homes, with Marshallese women Petersen employed helping with translation, transportation, legal documents and applications for Medicaid benefits, prosecutors said.
Women got little to no prenatal care in Utah, and in one house slept on mattresses laid on bare floors in what one shocked adoptive family described as a “baby mill,” according to court documents.
As Duane Kees, the U.S. attorney for the western district of Arkansas, put it, many of the Marshallese women “described their ordeal as being treated like property.” Petersen, meanwhile, found his operation quite lucrative, raking in almost $3 million in adoption fees in a two-year period.