Paul Petersen, the recently suspended Maricopa County Assessor, today pleaded not guilty for the second time in two weeks on allegations that he ran a child smuggling ring.
He also hired a prominent political lawyer to argue that his suspension is unconstitutional.
Petersen showed up to court in Maricopa County exactly one week after his first arraignment in federal court in Arkansas.
Authorities accused Petersen of paying women from the Marshall Islands to deliver their babies in the U.S. and of organizing the children’s adoption to American families. He is charged with smuggling and adoption fraud in Arkansas and Utah, and with defrauding the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System in Arizona.
His lead attorney, Kurt Altman, said they are preparing for the next court date in Arkansas on December 5 and Arizona on December 19, though he added those dates could change.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on October 28 to suspend Petersen for 120 days, the full suspension period allowed in statute. He will not be paid four months of his $77,000 salary during his suspension. The board subsequently appointed Bill Wiley, the county’s former director of flood control and air quality, as acting administrator of the Assessor’s Office. Wiley will earn nearly twice as much as Petersen would per hour.
Altman called the suspension “outside [the board’s] authority” and deferred questions to Petersen’s new lawyers, Kory Langhofer and Tom Basile, who were also present after the hearing.
Langhofer, a prominent GOP attorney who represented the Arizona Republican Party under Chairman Jonathan Lines, said the board’s decision to suspend Petersen is unconstitutional.
“Nobody is saying Paul Petersen didn’t do his job as county assessor very well,” Langhofer said, adding the position of assessor is equal to the supervisors, so neither of them should be able to kick out the other from office.
“Everyone agrees he did the job, he showed up, he did what needed to be done. That’s not the issue at all,” Langhofer said.
The Arizona Republic reported that Petersen only spent 53 days at his county office during the year, citing parking records, and worked on an average of four hours each day. The county has since revoked Petersen’s access to the garage and his office due to his suspension.
On top of only showing up for 53 days, an internal audit showed several documents on Petersen’s county computer pertaining to his adoption business. Only five percent of the documents found pertained to county business at all.
Langhofer said he plans to write a letter to the Board of Supervisors to handle things “amicably,” and if things cannot be settled that way, then his client will take the matter to court.