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Embattled Maricopa County assessor willing to resign for right price

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

PHOENIX – Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen, who is facing human smuggling and fraud charges over an alleged adoption fraud scheme, is willing to resign from his elected position for the right price, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Attorney Kory Langhofer told KTAR News 92.3 FM the county Board of Supervisors recently rejected Petersen’s offer to step down in exchange for nine months of salary and benefits.

Langhofer alleged that the county was more interested in embarrassing Petersen than coming to an agreement that would save taxpayers money.

“He’s willing to resign, but so far we’ve got no serious offers from the county,” Langhofer said.

The salary portion of Petersen’s offer would come to about $57,750, based on his annual pay rate of around $77,000. It’s unclear what the benefits would cost.

John Doran, attorney for the Board of Supervisors, told KTAR News the county hasn’t included any of Petersen’s salary in its settlement offers.

“I don’t really think it’s appropriate or particular professional to discuss settlement discussions,” he said.

“However, given what’s out there, I can certainly confirm that the county has not made any offer to pay Mr. Petersen any portion of his salary, and that is a very large component of one of his settlement demands.”

Langhofer said the county already has spent more for lawyers in the case than the amount of his client’s settlement offer.

“I think the reason they’re not taking it is they want to beat their chests and look strong by forcibly taking it from him, by having a show trial and trying to embarrass him,” he said.

The board suspended Petersen for 120 days, the maximum allowable under state law, on Oct. 28, citing neglect of duty. Petersen has disputed the suspension and will have his appeal hearing with the board Wednesday.

Last week, the board released the preliminary report from independent investigators hired to look into Petersen’s job performance. The 55-page report concluded Petersen had successfully fulfilled his duties as assessor but misused county resources for his private law practice and was unable to do his job after his October arrest.

Langhofer argued that the report proves Petersen shouldn’t have been suspended, but he acknowledged that he expects his client to lose his appeal with the Board of Supervisors. He also said he planned to take the case to court, if necessary.

Petersen was appointed to head up the assessor’s office, which is responsible for determining the value of properties for tax purposes in Phoenix and its suburbs, in 2013. In the 2016 election, voters handed him a full four-year term.

The Board of Supervisors and other officials, including Gov. Doug Ducey, started calling for Petersen’s resignation following his Oct. 8 arrest on 62 charges in Arizona, Arkansas and Utah.

He was accused of 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.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Petersen already had pleaded guilty to charges in Utah.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Taylor Kinnerup and Ashley Flood contributed to this report.

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