Embattled Arizona elected official now in federal custody

'Purest form of human trafficking': Arizona official charged in adoption fraud scheme

'Purest form of human trafficking': Arizona official charged in adoption fraud scheme

An Arkansas judge says his court will decide individual outcomes in 19 adoption cases involving an Arizona official accused of human smuggling.

The indictment states, "Petersen and Jennet facilitated travel for pregnant women from the Republic of the Marshall Islands to come to Arizona for the goal of giving a child up for adoption".

"The commercialization of children is illegal, and the commoditization of children is simply evil", Reyes told reporters during a news conference Wednesday.

Michaela Montie said she created Shared Beginnings to "offer our services and support to expecting mothers who don't have anywhere to turn or adoptive parents who don't know what to do with this news".

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in Phoenix said Friday that County Assessor Paul Petersen was no longer in their jail.

Authorities have also said Petersen violated the treaty agreement between the USA and the Marshall Islands. He was later recruited by an worldwide adoption agency while in law school because of his fluency in Marshallese, according to a 2013 Phoenix Business Journal story. Petersen faces 62 charges that span about three years and involve almost 75 adoptions.

The expecting mothers were often crowded in the homes, with little in the way of prenatal care, The Associated Press reported.

"It makes me sick to my stomach", she said after being told how expectant mothers were allegedly herded inside the home. Fayetteville attorney Andrea McCurdy is now representing all the birth mothers.

"Many of these mothers described their ordeal as being treated like property", Kees said.

The case came to light in October 2017 when a state investigator received a tip from the Utah Attorney General's Human Trafficking tip line.

In Arkansas, it wasn't uncommon to find a dozen Marshallese mothers on the verge of giving birth in one house, said Duane Kees, the US attorney for the western district of Arkansas.

Court documents allege that Petersen charged adoptive families up to $40,000 per child, raking in about $2.7 million in less than two years.

Together, Petersen and Takehisa are facing nineteen charges relating to alien smuggling, wire fraud, mail fraud, and visa fraud in the District Court for Western Arkansas.

Lawyer accused of flying pregnant Marshallese...

In addition, one of the charges states the couple attempted to deceive the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System by applying for benefits for these women by stating they were Arizona residents.

Officials say adoptions between the United States and the Marshall Islands are prohibited.

The injunction also ordered Megan Wolfe, described in court documents as Petersen's paralegal, to stop planning or placing a child for adoption, or offering legal advice.

The investigation uncovered that several Utah hospital staffers had noticed an influx of Marshallese women giving birth and then giving their child up for adoption.