An Elected County official from Arizona pleaded guilty this week to running an international baby mill adoption scheme. Paul Peterson imported pregnant women from an island in the central Pacific into the United States to give birth, then sold the babies for around $33,000 a head in Arizona, Arkansas and Utah.
An international baby mill
The former Maricopa County assessor pleaded guilty to reduced charges for running an illegal baby mill. The allegations were filed in the state of Arizona, authorities announced on Thursday. 45-year-old Paul Petersen admitted running the “adoption fraud scheme” to transport pregnant women from the Marshall Islands into the U.S. to sell their babies.
Peterson was a licensed adoption lawyer in both Utah and Arizona as well as an elected county official in Arizona. As part of a deal, he pleaded guilty to only three counts of fraudulent schemes and one count of forgery. Each of these crimes are a felony in Arizona.
In Utah, Petersen ran what prosecutors call “an enterprise to transport pregnant Marshallese women to the state for adoptions.” The Pacific islanders “were housed in residences he allegedly owned or leased.” The Marshall islands are a loosely scattered group, about as far as you can get from anywhere on solid land. That’s why the area was used for nuclear bomb tests. The baby mill gave young women a ticket out. They didn’t all return.
Abused his position of trust
For three full years starting in August of 2016, Peterson brought in more than 40 women then “collected proceeds from each adoption in the form of fees paid to him by adoptive parents,” court documents reveal. He resigned his job when he was arrested last October.
Arizona’s Attorney General, Mark Brnovich points out that what Peterson did violated his “position of respect and trust in the community.” That makes what he did even worse. His baby mill “manipulated adoptive families and bilked Arizona taxpayers for his own profit.” One family paid him $33,000 for an adoption, an affidavit notes.
According to Brnovich, “It doesn’t matter if you’re politically connected, wealthy, or an elected official, the rule of law applies equally to everyone.” Now, Peterson must “answer for his crimes.” His co-defendant, Lynwood Jennet, pleaded guilty back in December for her involvement in the baby mill.
Paying most of it back
Arizona prosecutors estimate that Peterson’s scheme “defrauded the state out of more than $814,000.” Peterson agreed to pay most of it back. As part of the deal he’s going to fork over “$650,000 to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which is Arizona’s Medicaid agency.” On top of that, he’s going to kick in another “$11,000 to an uncharged victim and $18,000 to the Arizona attorney general’s office for investigative costs.”
Not all of the women went back to the middle of nowhere after they gave birth. Some moved to Arkansas. “Petersen and Jennet are accused of directing the mothers to fraudulently misrepresent their residency status to obtain health care benefits.”
Petersen is looking at between 3 and 12.5 years in the Arizona Department of Corrections in his first case and up to four years in a related second case. He “provided false information on the birth mothers’ fees to prospective adoptive parents and to the Maricopa County Superior Court Juvenile Division.”
Nobody is going to be uprooting the children affected by the baby mill scheme. In both Arizona and Utah, officials “stressed they have no interest in interfering with adoptions that have already taken place.” None of the parents who knowingly purchased black market babies will be charged. “They are not under investigation, and their adoptions are not in danger if they are complete,” assures the Utah attorney general’s office.