Former Arizona GOP politician sentenced to prison for illegal adoption scheme

Former Arizona GOP politician sentenced to prison for illegal adoption scheme
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A former Arizona GOP politician, who admitted to leading an illegal adoption scheme across three states, was sentenced to six years in federal prison on Tuesday.

Maricopa County’s former Republican assessor Paul Petersen was sentenced after illegally paying women from the Marshall Islands to travel to the U.S. to allow their babies to be adopted in at least 70 incidents in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas over three years.

The human trafficking scheme involved bringing the women to the U.S. to give birth, even though Marshall Islands citizens are banned from going to the U.S. for adoption purposes. 

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Tuesday’s sentencing is the first of three punishments and revolved around the case in Arkansas, The Associated Press reported

Judge Timothy Brooks ordered the sentencing, which was two years longer than sentencing recommendations, in a virtual hearing, saying Petersen changed what should be a joyous celebration into “a baby-selling enterprise,” according to the AP. The judge dismissed Petersen’s argument that he at first didn’t know he was breaking the law. 

“You knew that lying and making these false statements to immigration officials and state courts was wrong,” he said. 

During the hearing, Petersen apologized to mothers who said he disrespected them, adding he did not approve of subordinate mistreatment of the mothers, saying “I take responsibility for my lack of oversight,” according to the AP.

Prosecutors said some mothers had their passports taken to forbid them from leaving the country and some were told they’d be arrested if they didn’t go through with the adoptions. 

Petersen is to be sentenced in Arizona and in Utah next month. Prosecutors have accused the former assessor of fraudulently sending in applications to Arizona’s Medicaid system for the mothers while claiming they lived in the state. He has said he paid back $670,000 of $800,000 in the health care costs to Arizona.

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Prosecutors said Petersen earned money from the scheme that assisted in paying for trips, luxury cars and several homes.

Petersen was charged in October 2019, sparking the county to suspend him. The former assessor at the time pledged that he wouldn’t resign.

He eventually “reluctantly” resigned last January, asserting that he was “an innocent man, but the media and the Board of Supervisors have presumed my guilt rather than my innocence in this matter.”

He admitted to his participation in the adoption scheme in June.