Indicted Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen’s co-defendant in an alleged illegal adoption scheme has agreed to testify against him.
Lynwood Jennet, 46, of Mesa, pled guilty in Maricopa County Superior Court Thursday to various charges and she will go to prison for two to four years and could pay nearly $1 million in restitution in exchange for the state dropping 45 other charges.
She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraudulent schemes and artifices, two counts of theft and a failure to file a tax return. Jennet also has two pending cases against her by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
Petersen is accused of paying women from the Marshall Islands to deliver their babies in the U.S. and of organizing the adoptions 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.
In a prepared statement, Attorney General Mark Brnovich said Jennet’s plea was a step for her toward resolving those cases.
“Today’s development is a significant step towards justice in this case,” Brnovich said. “We will continue to pursue any individual who rips off Arizona taxpayers.”
Jennet is a Marshallese woman who worked for Petersen for six years. Prosecutors allege she was the intermediary between Petersen and the women and helped them fraudulently apply for Medicaid benefits.
As part of Jennet’s plea agreement, she will give more information on Petersen’s transportation, fraudulent AHCCCS applications and the status of any birthmother she and Petersen allegedly brought to the U.S. between November 30, 2015, and May 30, 2019, and other related crimes.
Jennet’s sentencing hearing has not been set and, pending court approval, she will be on house arrest and could be electronically monitored until March 20, 2020. After that, she will be taken back into custody until that hearing.
Investigators were on to Jennet in April when a hospital social worker informed them she was the interpreter, emergency contact and notary for three consecutive Marshallese women who had given birth over a three-week period at Banner Baywood Hospital in Mesa, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Investigators stuck a GPS tracker on her car to build a case against her and Petersen, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Jennet, who along with the birth mothers, received Medicaid, reported on her application she had no bank account, but investigators found an account that had received $116,540, with $64,650 coming from Petersen’s law office.
In September, she was indicted by a state grand jury in 17 counts of conspiracy, fraudulent schemes, theft, forgery, perjury, money laundering and failure to file a tax return. Some of those charges also involved fraudulent Medicaid filings.
She was arrested and released after posting a $25,000 bond but was arrested again in early October, a week after Petersen was. The two were indicted in October.
Part of what led to her arrest was an approved search warrant that allowed police to track her car all day every day, as they suspected it was used in her alleged crimes. She was listed as the emergency contact for a Marshallese woman who gave birth.
Petersen was placed under a 120-day suspension from the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which is in limbo. On Thursday, the board said it would not have the public hearing it was scheduled to have Thursday because it didn’t have the final investigative report.
The reason for the delay, Fields Mosley, a county spokesman, said, was because the team behind the report did not get Petersen’s laptop or at least a mirror image of the laptop from Brnovich’s office until December 10, which was delayed because the AG had to serve a search warrant to get the laptop, and that the information in it hasn’t been completely finalized.
Petersen’s attorney Kurt Altman could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.