Former Arizona State Official Arrested, Pleads Guilty To ‘Baby Selling’ Scheme That Involved Exploiting Immigrants

In what might be the most shocking and disturbing story of the year, a former Arizona state official has been arrested and pleaded guilty for taking part in a “baby-selling scheme.”

According to a report from the Daily Mail, an Arizona state official named Paul Petersen pled guilty to a scheme where pregnant women were shipped from the Marshall Islands to Utah, and then their infants were put up for adoption for a hefty price.

Petersen previously served as the Maricopa County Arizona Assessor.

He was getting pregnant immigrant women to fly to Utah so that he could sell their babies after they were born on American soil.

According to the report, Petersen was charged with illegally paying women from the Pacific island nation to come to the United States to give up their babies in at least 70 adoption cases in Arizona, Utah, and Arkansas over three years.

According to a press release from Immigration Customs and Enforcement, Petersen pleaded guilty to:

  1. Fraudulent Schemes and Artifices, a Class 2 Felony
  2. Fraudulent Schemes and Practices, a Class 5 Felony
  3. Forgery, a Class 4 Felony
  4. Fraudulent Schemes and Practices, a Class 5 Felony

The women brought to Utah to give birth received little or no prenatal care and their passports were taken while they were in the US to assert control over them, authorities said.

Prosecutors said Petersen paid the pregnant immigrant women around $10,000 to put their newborns up for adoption.

Then, prosecutors said Peterson would charge American families anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000 to buy the children after they were put up for adoption.

Petersen has reportedly agreed to plead guilty in Utah to three counts of human smuggling and one count of communications fraud, all charges he’s facing are felonies.

The investigation began in 2017 after state officials in Utah were called by staff at several hospitals in Salt Lake City.

Several hospitals reported seeing an “influx” of women from the Marshall Islands that were giving birth and putting their babies up for adoption.

Several medical staff also reportedly said several of the immigrant women were accompanied by the same woman, who reportedly worked for Petersen.

Petersen faces up to 15 years in prison, a $50,000 fine, and a requirement to shut down his adoption practice in Utah.

Dan Strong, Assistant Attorney General and SECURE Section Director, is asking for the maximum sentence to each of these charges against Peterson.

“Convicting Paul Petersen of four serious felony charges is a just and encouraging resolution of the state’s criminal case,” said Dan Strong, Assistant Attorney General and SECURE Section Director. “Between the sentences in all three states, we are confident Petersen will serve a substantial prison term—a stronger result than any jurisdiction could likely have achieved individually. We are especially proud to have achieved this outcome without putting the victims in this case through a difficult trial that would have involved wrenching testimony on sensitive family issues. We hope this conviction and sentence gives these victims some closure, and that it will deter Petersen and others like him from flouting international law, exploiting vulnerable mothers, and defrauding parents seeking to adopt.”

Utah Attorney General Reyes also spoke about the case.

Attorney General Reyes expressed gratitude to all those who dedicated time and effort in this case: “I’m extremely proud of the tireless work our Attorney General investigators, prosecutors, victim advocates, and community partners have done on this case. Utah led out on the investigation which lasted well over a year and our prosecutors’ close working relationship with Arizona and Arkansas, will lead to a collective result that no state alone would likely have been able to obtain.  I thank our state and federal partners and the Republic of the Marshall Islands for their cooperation and support on this complex case.”