Maricopa County to vote to suspend official accused of human trafficking
PHOENIX — The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors decided Wednesday to vote next week on suspending an official who was arrested earlier this month in an alleged human trafficking scheme.
The earliest the board can vote on suspending Paul Petersen, the county’s assessor, is Monday.
The suspension could be up to 120 days, and Petersen could appeal it, board spokesman Fields Moseley told KTAR News 92.3 FM.
The board met last week to discuss ways to legally oust Petersen. He was elected to his second term as assessor last year.
Board members said at Wednesday’s meeting that Petersen can’t perform his duties from jail, and auditors have found documents related to his adoption business on his county computer.
Gov. Doug Ducey and the board called for Petersen to resign shortly after his arrest, but he has not signaled any intent to do so.
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 and a co-conspirator 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.
They also are 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 more than $800,000.
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.
Native American leaders have called for an expanded investigation after the Phoenix New Times reported Petersen’s law firm helped place at least one Native American baby.
The Arizona Legislature’s Indigenous Peoples Caucus expressed concern that Petersen may have violated the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ashley Flood and The Associated Press contributed to this report.