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Grant Woods to oversee investigation of Maricopa County assessor

Grant Woods (KTAR News Photo/Matt Layman)

PHOENIX – Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods will oversee an investigation into the elected official who is under indictment for human smuggling through an alleged adoption fraud scheme, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

County Attorney Allister Adel authorized “an investigation as it relates to the duties of Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen” after the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted for it last week, an MCAO press release said.

The law firm of Mitchell Stein Carey Chapman will conduct the investigation and report its findings to the county attorney.

Adel hired the outside counsel “due to the extensive nature of this investigation, and to ensure judicious use of resources,” the release said.

Cosmich Simmons & Brown PLLC will review documents, and Woods will provide regular updates to Adel.

Woods served as the state’s attorney general from 1991 to 1999 and also worked as chief of staff to Sen. John McCain.

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.

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

On Oct. 28, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors suspended him without pay for 120 days, the maximum allowable under state law. He is appealing the suspension and will have a hearing Dec. 11.

County auditors have said they found hundreds of 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.

Petersen has pleaded not guilty to 32 state charges in Arizona and 19 federal charges in Arkansas. He has not yet entered a plea on 11 state charges in Utah.

Prosecutors say he paid women up to $10,000 to come to the United States to give up their babies in at least 70 adoption cases.

Marshall Islands citizens have been prohibited from traveling to the U.S. for adoption purposes since 2003.

The Arizona charges 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.

Petersen’s attorney said his client has been vilified before his side of the story comes out.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Grant Woods is scheduled to appear on KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes Show at 9 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the investigation into Paul Petersen.

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