Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

paul petersen

An elected Republican official in Arizona has been suspended after being charged with selling babies for adoption at up to $40,000 (£31,000) each.

Paul Petersen, a property tax assessor in Maricopa County, Arizona, allegedly ran a human smuggling scheme which brought dozens of pregnant women from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean to the US.

The expectant mothers were crammed into homes owned or rented by Petersen, often with little or no prenatal care.

They were then paid to give up their newborn babies for adoption to families in Utah, Arkansas and Arizona.

The case involves at least 75 adoptions over three years, according to authorities.

Mr Petersen, a Republican, allegedly failed to disclose the details of his illegal scheme to the new parents, who were charged between $25,000 and $40,000 per adoption.

He was arrested on 8 October but refused to resign from his $77,000-a-year job despite being charged in all three states with criminal offences including human smuggling, sale of a child, fraud, forgery and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

On Monday he was suspended without pay for 120 days by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, who cited his “neglect of duty”.

Mr Petersen’s connection with the Marshall Islands is said to date back to when he completed a mission there for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He later worked on the islands on behalf on behalf of an international adoption agency before going to law school and becoming an adoption attorney.

The investigation began after concerned hospital workers called Utah’s human trafficking tip line.

Utah attorney general Sean Reyes said: “The commercialisation of children is illegal, and the commoditisation of children is simply evil.

“While Mr Petersen is entitled to a presumption of innocence, our investigation uncovered evidence that he has committed horrible crimes. His illegal adoption scheme exploited highly vulnerable groups in two countries—the birth mothers and families in the Marshall Islands and the adoptive parents here in Utah.

“It is heartbreaking that these families from both countries were so cruelly manipulated.”

The Utah Attorney General’s Office said in a statement that they did not intend to reverse the adoptions that had already taken place.

Adoptions between the Marshall Islands and the US are prohibited by an interstate compact due to “a long history of adoption-related exploitation”, it added.

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