Arizona official resigns after allegations he paid women to give up their babies

Arizona official resigns after allegations he paid women to give up their babies

An assessor for Maricopa County in Arizona resigned Tuesday, months after he was indicted in a human trafficking scheme that allegedly involved paying women to give up their babies.

Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen (R) announced his resignation in a statement arguing he was “an innocent man, but the media and the Board of Supervisors have presumed my guilt rather than my innocence in this matter.”

“Today, I reluctantly resign as Maricopa County Assessor,” he said in his statement. “My focus now turns to defending the allegations against me. Those allegations will ultimately be resolved in a courtroom, where rules and the Constitution still matter.”

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Peterson, who also works as an adoption lawyer, was suspended without pay by the county in October after being accused of participating in a scheme to bring women from the Marshall Islands to the U.S. to give birth and place their babies for adoption. Citizens of the Marshall Islands are prohibited from traveling to the U.S. for adoption purposes.

Authorities say there were at least 70 instances in which he paid women to place their babies for adoption in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas over a three-year period.

The former assessor faces charges of human smuggling in Utah and Arkansas and of defrauding Arizona’s Medicaid system of $800,000. Authorities say he applied for state-funded health care for the women, The Associated Press reported. He has pleaded not guilty in Arizona and Arkansas but has yet to enter a plea in Utah.

Petersen had been under pressure to resign from county leaders since his indictment in October, and the county’s governing board had voted to start the process of removing him, according to the AP. He initially said he would not resign following the indictment.

Authorities say the women received little to no prenatal care, and Petersen and others involved took their passports to have more power over them, the AP reported.