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Maricopa County assessor indicted in adoption fraud scheme

Paul Petersen (MCSO Photo)

PHOENIX — The head of the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office was arrested Tuesday after a multi-state investigation into an adoption fraud scheme.

Paul Petersen was taken into custody near Gila Bend, indicted on 32 counts that included human smuggling and sale of a child in Utah, and
conspiracy and fraud in Arizona.

Petersen and Lynwood Jennet, who was also listed in the indictment, allegedly committed the crimes between November 2015 and May 2019.

Petersen and Jennet were accused of recruiting, transporting and offering to pay more than 40 pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to adopt out their babies in the United States.

At least 29 women gave birth in Arizona, the state Attorney General’s Office told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Wednesday.

Petersen also is accused of cheating state Medicaid out of about $800,000.

Petersen illegally obtained services from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System for the women by falsely claiming they were Arizona residents, the indictment said. He also is accused of violating U.S. law which prohibits citizens of the Marshall Islands from traveling to the U.S. for the purpose of adoption.

Arizona’s Department of Public Safety raided Petersen’s home and his Mesa adoption business and law office Tuesday evening, according to ABC 15.

The parents who adopted the children will not be a focus of the investigation, a spokeswoman in the attorney general’s office said.

Petersen’s business website noted the average cost of an adoption with Petersen’s firm was $30,000-$40,000 and that the money covered “the birth mother’s monthly expenses, prenatal and delivery medical expenses and assistants and office expenses.”

The Utah Attorney General’s Office first became aware of the situation after hospital workers called a human trafficking tip line, KSL reported.

A press conference was scheduled for Wednesday at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

Petersen is in his second term as county assessor. He previously spent eight years in the office working as the assessor’s representative at the Arizona Legislature and as public information officer.

The investigation included the Arizona Department of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Jim Cross and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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