Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen Resigns Over Adoption Scheme

Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen
Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen Ray Stern
Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen, who was indicted for an adoption scheme involving women from the Marshall Islands, resigned from office on Tuesday.

Attorney Kory Langhofer, who represents Petersen, confirmed that his client stepped down. In a statement, Petersen maintained his innocence of the charges against him.

"Today, I reluctantly resign as Maricopa County Assessor. My focus now turns to defending the allegations against me," he said. "Those allegations will ultimately be resolved in a courtroom, where rules and the Constitution still matter."

Grand juries in three states indicted Petersen in October on dozens of felonies stemming from investigations of his adoption business. Petersen faces charges for his role in arranging travel for more than 70 pregnant Marshallese women to come to the United States for the sole purpose of giving birth.

Petersen's business practices likely violated an international compact that bars Marshallese women intending on adopting out their babies from traveling to the U.S. without a visa.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich charged Petersen on more than 30 counts of Medicaid fraud for allegedly falsifying the records of women to cover health care costs totaling more than $800,000. Petersen also faces human smuggling charges in Utah and Arkansas.

He has pleaded not guilty to all his charges.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted to suspend Petersen, but he resisted calls for him to step down. Until now. Petersen, a Republican, was first appointed in 2013 and elected to a four-year term in 2016, earning $76,000 a year for the job.

Petersen's resignation came after the board initiated a process to force his removal from office for willful misconduct.

A county investigation found that Petersen threatened pregnant Marshallese women who were reconsidering adoption. "All you girls work for me, not the other way around," he reportedly texted one woman, according to a message found on his county-issued laptop, one of thousands of documents collected in the investigation.

The investigation also found that someone attempted to wipe Petersen's hard drive on at least two occasions after his arrest.

In his statement, Petersen criticized the Board for suspending him despite a separate county report that found he did not neglect his statutory duties.

"Anyone can second guess the hours I spent at the downtown office, or whether the position should be appointed rather than elected, but I performed my statutory duties with honesty and the support and loyalty of an entire office," he said.
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Steven Hsieh was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from August 2018 to April 2020.
Contact: Steven Hsieh