The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to uphold County Assessor Paul Petersen's suspension and start the process of removing him from his elected position following a grand jury indictment for multiple counts of fraud related to his adoption service.
Petersen is accused running a human smuggling scheme by bringing pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to the United States to give birth for adoptions for a fee.
At a press conference in October, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said Petersen illegally had arranged travel for 29 pregnant women from the Marshall Islands from November 2015 to May 2019. Petersen is also accused of misrepresenting the women as Arizona residents to swindle $800,000 in state Medicaid money to cover their health care costs.
Members of the board said they found text messages and other evidence on Petersen's county-issued laptop threatening Marshallese parents who changed their minds about adoption and telling pregnant women they work for him.
"All you girls work for me, not the other way around," one text said.
Petersen has pleaded not guilty to the slew of felony charges against him in Arizona, Arkansas, and Utah for human smuggling, fraud, forgery, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
When state police arrested Petersen on October 8, they found eight pregnant Marshallese women at his home.
An Arizona grand jury indicted Petersen in October. The Board of Supervisors voted to suspend Petersen for 120 days without pay later that month. Petersen has been fighting the suspension ever since and has claimed that he did not neglect his duties to run a black market adoption business.
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“While Mr. Petersen is entitled to a presumption of innocence, our investigation uncovered evidence that he has committed horrible crimes. 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,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement following Petersen's indictment.
Petersen taxpayer-funded salary as County Assessor is $77,000 a year. A Republican, he was appointed as Maricopa County Assessor in 2013. Voters elected to retain him in 2016.
Petersen's wife filed for divorce earlier this week, claiming that Petersen secretly used their money and "without her knowledge and consent, dissipated, wasted, encumbered, transferred, hid, and concealed community funds for his own personal benefit."
This is a breaking story and may be updated.