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Maricopa County calls for official accused of adoption fraud to resign

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PHOENIX — The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is calling for the county assessor to step down following his arrest in an alleged adoption fraud scheme.

Paul Petersen, 44, was arrested Tuesday and indicted on 32 counts that included human smuggling, sale of a child, conspiracy and fraud in three states.

“Petersen’s prompt resignation will ensure his legal issues don’t distract him from leading the County Assessor’s Office,” the board said in a statement Thursday.

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

The pair is also accused of claiming the women were Arizona residents on paperwork to get them state-funded health care coverage, bilking Arizona’s Medicaid system out of $814,000.

Gov. Doug Ducey suggested Wednesday that Petersen should resign.

“There’s an investigation ongoing, so I want the investigation to be complete and understand all the facts,” he told reporters.

“I imagine that he should resign because this is going to take up all of his time in having to deal with this and there’s no way that he can serve in his public role in this capacity.”

The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas Duane Kees said Wednesday that as the investigation continues, Petersen could face additional charges.

As of now, Kees said, he could face a $5 million fine and up to 315 years in prison.

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.

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