Former Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen, who was accused 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, today pleaded guilty to four fraudulent charges.
He will face time in prison and has to pay fines of up to $650,000.
Petersen faced 32 felony charges in Arizona. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich will drop the remaining charges per a plea agreement. The charges that Petersen pleaded guilty to entail between 3 and 12.5 years of imprisonment.
Petersen pleaded guilty to fraudulent schemes and artifices, a Class 2 felony, and fraudulent schemes and practices, a Class 5 felony. These are nondangerous, non-repetitive offenses under the state criminal code.
The $650,000 in fines will go to Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System in Arizona, the state’s Medicaid program. Petersen must also pay $11,000 to one of the victims and $18,000 to the Attorney General’s Office for extraordinary investigative costs.
“Any money obtained as a result of a forfeiture order in Maricopa County Superior Court shall be applied as a credit against the restitution order in this case,” the judge ruled.
Petersen’s official sentence will be set within 90 days, which falls on Sept. 16, 2020.
Authorities accused Petersen of smuggling and adoption fraud in Arkansas and Utah, and with defrauding the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System in Arizona.
Petersen charged upwards of $35,000 for his adoption services, and paid the mothers, through a third party, around $10,000 per baby, though he would often skim expenses out of the final payments, according to court documents.
Brnovich ordered to freeze Petersen’s assets in November, which included Petersen’s Mesa property where the pregnant Marshallese women lived, and Petersen’s law office.
The warrant to seize his assets revealed that a prostitution camp in the Marshall Islands provided many of the birth mothers caught up in the illegal adoption scheme, according to statements attributed to his co-defendant.
Petersen resigned from his elected position in January after the County Board of Supervisors suspended him for three months.
Petersen still has a case pending in Utah and in a federal court in Arkansas, his attorney Kurt Altman said.
“It’s anticipated and scheduled frankly that Mr. Petersen is also going to enter pleas of guilty in those two cases,” Altman told the judge.