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Maricopa County official in adoption case requests hearing on suspension

Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen, right, along with his attorney, Kurt Altman, leave after Petersen's arraignment hearing in Phoenix, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Petersen pleaded not guilty to fraud and theft charges stemming from an alleged human smuggling scheme involving pregnant women from the Marshall Islands who were brought to the U.S. to give birth for adoptions. (AP Photo/Jacques Billeaud)

PHOENIX – Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen on Thursday requested a hearing over his suspension following his arrest last month in a human smuggling case involving adoptions.

Petersen has the right to appeal under the same law the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors used Oct. 28 to suspend him for 120 days for neglect of duty, the board said in a press release.

The board said it would meet soon to discuss the process after receiving a letter from Petersen’s attorneys requesting “a hearing and reconsideration.”

The letter makes the arguments that Petersen hasn’t neglected his duties and the board doesn’t have the legal authority to suspend the elected assessor.

After Petersen pleaded not guilty at his Phoenix arraignment Tuesday, attorney Kory Langhofer said his client would try to amicably resolve the dispute. But if that fails, the attorney said, he’ll file a lawsuit contesting the suspension.

“They have decided to throw him out regardless of what the constitution says, and so I suspect this is going to end up in court,” Langhofer said.

On Oct. 8, Petersen was arrested on 62 charges in three states for allegedly recruiting, transporting and offering to pay dozens of pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to adopt out their babies in the United States.

The 32 Arizona charges against him include accusations that Petersen falsely claimed the women were Arizona residents to get them health care coverage, bilking the state’s Medicaid system out of more than $800,000.

Despite calls from high-ranking state and county officials, Petersen has refused to resign.

County auditors said last week they found hundreds documents related to Petersen’s adoption business on his county-issued computer, a fact cited by the board in its decision to suspend him. The board also cited his extended absence from the office while incarcerated.

“The board believes they are on solid legal footing,” Fields Moseley, a spokesman for county government, said this week in responding to the claim that Petersen’s suspension wasn’t legitimate.

The board lacks the power to permanently remove Petersen from his office, which determines the value of properties for tax purposes in Phoenix and its suburbs.

Bill Wiley was appointed acting administrator of the assessor’s office during Petersen’s suspension.

Last week, Petersen pleaded not guilty in Arkansas to 19 federal charges related to the case.

He also faces 11 charges in Utah, where his initial appearance was set for Nov. 15.

The case spans three years and involves some 75 adoptions, authorities said.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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