Independent investigators say Paul Petersen failed to cooperate with probe
PHOENIX – Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen failed to cooperate with a county-ordered independent investigation conducted in the wake of his arrest on adoption-related human smuggling and fraud charges and subsequent suspension, according to a preliminary report released Friday.
However, the 55-page report says investigators “did not find evidence that Mr. Petersen failed to fulfill any particular statutory obligations” required of his position.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors released the report in advance of Wednesday’s hearing on Petersen’s appeal of a 120-day suspension from his $77,000-a-year job.
The board previously cited Petersen’s misuse of county equipment for his private business and his inability to do his job following his October arrest as reasons for suspending him Oct. 28 for neglect of duty.
“Mr. Petersen did not meaningfully cooperate with our investigation,” the report says, citing, among other reasons, Petersen’s failure to turn over his county-issued laptop.
The report says the Arizona Attorney General’s Office obtained the laptop this week through a search warrant. Investigators then requested and received a digital image of the laptop but didn’t review the contents before issuing the preliminary report.
“Mr. Petersen did not promptly respond to our request for an interview, did not provide any written materials to us, and did not return his county-issued laptop until after the Attorney General’s Office obtained a search warrant, leaving us unable to review its contents as part of this investigation,” the report said.
The report also contains details about the number of documents related to Petersen’s private law practice that were created and saved on the county’s network as well as private business-related phone calls made and emails sent using county equipment.
The investigation didn’t note any impropriety concerning Petersen’s travel or the performance of his office in regard to property valuations.
Kory Langhofer, Petersen’s attorney, told KTAR News 92.3 FM the report exonerates his client because it says he didn’t neglect his statutory duties.
Langhofer explained that Petersen declined interview requests because investigators wouldn’t let Petersen’s team interview their witnesses.
“What’s good for the goose is what’s good for the gander,” he said.
Langhofer also maintained that, as an elected official, Petersen isn’t bound by the same policies as county employees.
Regardless, Langhofer said he expects the board to affirm Petersen’s suspension.
“And then we’re going to go to court,” he said. “And once we get into a court, once we get into a neutral forum, we’re really optimistic about our chances in this case.”
In an email accompanying the report, county spokesman Fields Moseley said the findings didn’t prove Petersen wasn’t negligent.
“If the information exonerated Mr. Petersen, the Board of Supervisors would cancel the hearing. That is not the case,” he said.
On. Nov. 19, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel authorized the law firm of Mitchell Stein Carey Chapman to conduct the investigation of Petersen’s conduct in office under the oversight of former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods.
The firm of Cosmich Simmons & Brown PLLC was also retained to review documents and conduct forensic analysis as part of the investigation.
The report doesn’t get into the legal case against Petersen, other than to note that he was absent and unreachable for about 20 days while in custody following his Oct. 8 arrest 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.
On Nov. 5, he pleaded not guilty to 32 fraud charges in Arizona, where he is accused of falsely claiming the women were Arizona residents to get them health care coverage, bilking the state’s Medicaid system out of more than $800,000.
He’s since pleaded not guilty pleas to 19 federal charges in Arkansas related to the alleged baby-selling scheme. He also faces 11 related charges in Utah but has not yet entered a plea there.
The board lacks the authority to permanently remove Petersen from his office, which determines the value of properties for tax purposes in Phoenix and its suburbs, but is allowed to suspend him for up to 120 days under certain provisions.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Petersen already had pleaded guilty to charges in Utah.
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report.