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Arizona Native American leaders want adoption fraud probe expanded

Paul Petersen (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Photo)

PHOENIX – Following a report that Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen’s alleged adoption fraud scheme might extend beyond the Marshall Islands, state Native American leaders are calling for an investigation.

The Phoenix New Times reported Monday that Petersen’s law firm helped place at least one Native American baby.

In response, the Arizona Legislature’s Indigenous Peoples Caucus expressed concern that Petersen may have violated the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.

“We urge all relevant federal, state and tribal governments to swiftly and thoroughly investigate whether there were any other native adoptions handled improperly by Mr. Petersen and his Bright Star Adoption agency,” Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai said in press release by the caucus.

Rep. Arlando Teller demanded that Petersen resign and be disbarred.

“As an attorney, he should be quite familiar with ICWA, and with no regard of this federal legislation his actions are both arrogant and brazen,” Teller said in the release.

Petersen, 44, was arrested Oct. 8 and indicted on 32 counts — including human smuggling, sale of a child, conspiracy and fraud — in three states.

He’s been 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.

Petersen’s attorney has said prosecutors have miscast his client as a human smuggler.

He could face a $5 million fine and up to 315 years in prison.

Rep. Myron Tsosie wants the investigation to be widened.

“Rather than protecting Native American children and keeping them with families from their tribes, his firm apparently is skirting the federal Indian Child Welfare Act to facilitate adoptions of native kids,” Tsosie said in the release.

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