Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen is facing state and federal charges in three states in connection to an adoption scheme stretching from the Republic of the Marshall Islands to Arkansas, Arizona and Utah.
Here is a timeline of key moments in his life, leading up to his arrest and indictments:
Paul D. Peterson is born in Arizona.
Petersen, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serves his church mission in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, according to court documents. The Republic of the Marshall Islands is located near the equator in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Philippines. It has a population of about 53,000 people.
Graduates from the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University. Earlier, he earns a degree from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
He begins to arrange adoptions involving women from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, according to Arizona authorities.
Petersen wins a special election in 2014 to replace Keith Russell, who left his position as Maricopa County Assessor to become East Mesa Justice of the Peace. The assessor is responsible for property valuation, which determines how much homeowners pay in property taxes.
Petersen begins to practice law in Arkansas.
Petersen, and his co-defendant, Lynwood Jennet, facilitate travel for pregnant women from the Republic of the Marshall Islands to Arizona, according to a criminal complaint filed in a Maricopa County Superior Court.
Petersen wins a full four-year term as assessor. His biography on the assessor’s website makes clear that he “continues to practice law from his Mesa-based law office, and his law practice remains committed to helping people all across the country in their effort to adopt children.”
The FBI receives a tip that Petersen’s co-defendant in Arkansas, Maki Tahehisa, offered to pay up to $10,000 to pregnant Marshellese women to travel to the U.S., give birth and consent to have their babies adopted by American parents.
Callers to the Utah Attorney General’s Office human trafficking tip line in October 2017 report suspicious births and adoptions involving Marshallese women in Utah hospitals, sparking an investigation there.
The non-profit news organization Honolulu Civil Beat, in an investigative piece titled “Black Market Babies,” questions the legality of the adoptions Petersen administered.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety receives a tip that Paul Petersen’s practices appear suspicious in conducting adoptions involving mothers from the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Oct. 7, 2019
Petersen and a co-defendant, Lynwood Jennet, are indicted in Arizona on 29 counts of fraudulent schemes and three counts of conspiracy, theft and forgery.
An investigation last year questioned the legality of adoptions Petersen administers through his private-sector job as a private adoption attorney.
Jessica Boehm, The Republic | azcentral.com
Oct. 8, 2019
Petersen is arrested and booked into a Maricopa County jail. Prosecutors tell the judge at his initial court appearance that they consider him a flight risk, and his cash bond is set at $500,000.
Oct. 9, 2019
At a news conference, state DPS Director Frank Milstead says troopers found eight pregnant Marshallese women in a Mesa house owned by Petersen.
Authorities in Utah announce 11 felony charges tied to Petersen’s adoption services. the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas unveils a 19-count indictment.
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