Arizona politician allegedly smuggled pregnant women, ran 'baby mill' in Utah

Paul Petersen

Paul Petersen

Prosecutors accuse an Arizona elected official of smuggling over 40 pregnant women into the United States from the Marshall Islands in order to buy their babies and sell them to adoptive families for profit. Petersen, who was indicted this week in three states on charges including human smuggling, sale of a child, money laundering, fraud, forgery, and theft, is accused of flying pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to the U.S. with the promise of $10,000 to put their babies up for adoption.

The women were housed in homes Petersen owned and leased, a Utah Attorney General's Office arrest warrant affidavit obtained by PEOPLE states.

It's unclear exactly why Petersen chose Utah to allegedly smuggle the pregnant women, but Reyes cited the state's lax adoption rules and its high Marshallese population as possibilities.

Petersen's attorney, Matthew Long, defended his client's actions during a court hearing in Phoenix Wednesday.

Petersen's lawyer said at a court appearance in Arizona that Petersen was engaged in proper business practices.

KPHO reported Petersen served a two-year mission in the Marshall Islands for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Authorities believe the adoptive families in the case were victims as well and do not plan to pursue any charges against the families or remove any children from completed adoptions. Petersen would pay for the women to travel to the USA days or months before giving birth and live in a home that he owned until delivering the baby, according to the court records.

Petersen's arraignment on his Arkansas charges is set for October 29 in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville.

Numerous women were crammed into houses and were even forced to sleep on a mattress laid on a bare floor in one home, according to the AP. "It makes me sick to my stomach".

"Many of these mothers described their ordeal as being treated like property", said Duane Kees, the US attorney for the western district of Arkansas, speaking about one of the residences in that state. "Make no mistake: this case is the purest form of human trafficking". Prosecutors say Petersen paid pregnant women $10,000 each to give up their babies for adoption.

Investigators started looking into the Republican - a licensed adoption lawyer in Utah, Arizona and Arkansas - after a hospital worker in Utah called a tip line to report a possible illegal adoption involving a Marshallese woman.

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.

An agreement between the United States and the Marshall Islands generally bans Marshallese people from traveling to the United States for adoptions.

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