PHOENIX (AP) – US attorneys in Arkansas will seek a 10-year sentence for a former Arizona politician who has confirmed the conduct of an illegal adoption program involving women from the Marshall Islands in three states.
According to prosecutors, Paul Petersen defrauded the state courts, breached an international adoption treaty, and exploited mothers and adoptive families to his own advantage.
Petersen, a Republican who served as an appraiser for the Phoenix Subway for six years and also worked as an adoption attorney, has been accused of running a program whereby born mothers had their passports removed to keep them from visiting the United States and were threatened with arrest for attempting to withdraw from adoptions. They were poor, spoke no English and lived 9,656 kilometers from home, prosecutors said.
“These circumstances prevented their escape as surely as if they were chained to a wall,” wrote the prosecutor. Four born mothers expressed doubts about their adoptions but continued with them anyway because the women were not allowed to return home.
Birth mothers were paid far less than promised, and the money Petersen made helped fund his lavish lifestyle, including expensive trips, luxury cars, and apartment buildings, according to prosecutors.
Petersen’s lawyers fiercely denied that her client was involved in keeping some of the mothers’ passports.
According to authorities, Petersen has illegally paid women from the Pacific island nation to come to the United States over three years to abandon their babies in at least 70 adoption cases in Arizona, Utah, and Arkansas. A pact banned Marshall Islands citizens from traveling to the United States for adoption purposes since 2003.
Petersen is due to be sentenced on December 1 in Arkansas for his federal conviction of conspiracy to smuggle people. He will be convicted in January of similar convictions in Arizona and Utah.
In Arizona, prosecutors are seeking an 18-year sentence for fraud for submitting false claims to the Arizona’s Medicaid system so that mothers could get federally funded health insurance – even though he knew they didn’t live in the state – and for them to deliver documents to a county juvenile court that contained false information.
His sentencing in Arizona is scheduled for January 22nd. His trial in Utah, where he could sit in prison for up to 15 years for people smuggling and other convictions, is slated for January 20.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers have agreed that the former appraiser will serve all three sentences at the same time.
Petersen’s attorney Kurt Altman denied his client forced the birth mothers, saying they voluntarily participated in the adoptions.
Altman said a woman who also pleaded guilty to helping born mothers receive Medicaid benefits told authorities she kept some born mothers’ passports but never claimed Petersen knew anything about them, let alone them I tolerated it.
While previously proclaiming his innocence, Petersen admitted in a letter to the Arkansas judge that he had broken the law and was willing to pay his debt to society.
“Unfortunately I have exceeded this limit and have to accept the consequences of my actions,” wrote Petersen and apologized to every mother he treated badly.
Even so, he claimed to have carried out hundreds of legal adoptions after finding a niche to house vulnerable children from the Marshall Islands and helping needy mothers who wanted more stable family lives for their children. Petersen also said that as a financial conservative, he is ashamed of charging Arizona taxpayers with labor and delivery costs. Since then, he has repaid the state $ 670,000 in expenses.
His plea in court records for leniency was accompanied by letters of support from some adoptive families.
Early in his life, Petersen, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, completed a proselytizing mission in the Marshall Islands, a collection of atolls and islands in the eastern Pacific.
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