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Maricopa County schedules hearing for assessor to appeal suspension

Paul D. Petersen (Facebook Photo/Maricopa County Assessor's Office)

PHOENIX – Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen, who is facing dozens of charges in a multistate human smuggling case, will get a chance to appeal a suspension from his elected position next month.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has scheduled a Dec. 11 hearing for Petersen to appeal his 120-day suspension without pay.

Petersen, who has the right to appeal under the same law the board used Oct. 28 to suspend him for neglect of duty, requested the hearing last week.

Petersen’s representatives have argued their client hasn’t neglected his duties and the board doesn’t have the legal authority to suspend the elected assessor.

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.

He’s pleaded not guilty to 32 Arizona charges, which 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 have said 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 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.

Petersen has 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 Friday.

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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