Friday, October 23, 2020

Arizona official accused of selling babies pleads not guilty in adoption fraud case

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An elected official in Arizona accused of running a human smuggling scheme that brought pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to the U.S. pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges in Arkansas.

Authorities say Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen illegally paid the Pacific island women to have their babies in the United States and give them up for adoption.

After entering his plea in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Petersen was released on $100,000 bond and ordered to wear an ankle monitor.

Petersen’s trial in Arkansas on human smuggling and adoption fraud charges is set for Dec. 9.

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He also faces charges in Arizona and Utah. His next court appearances are Nov. 1 in Salt Lake City and Nov. 5 in Phoenix.

Petersen, a Republican, entered his plea a day after the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted to suspend him without pay for up to 120 days. The board doesn’t have the power to permanently remove Petersen from his office, which determines the value of properties for tax purposes in Phoenix and its suburbs.

The criminal case against Petersen spans three years and involves some 75 adoptions, authorities say, with about 30 adoptions in three states. Court documents say the women brought to the U.S. were crammed into homes owned by Petersen, sometimes with little to no prenatal care.

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