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Paul Petersen agrees to plea deal to resolve Arizona fraud case

Paul Petersen (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Photo)

PHOENIX – Former Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen agreed to a plea deal Thursday to resolve his fraud case in Arizona related to a multistate illegal adoption scheme.

The disgraced elected official pled guilty to one count of fraudulent schemes and artifices, one count of forgery and two counts of fraudulent schemes and practices, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said.

Petersen’s sentencing hearing had been scheduled to begin July 31, but a continuation was granted and a status conference was scheduled for Aug. 28. He faces up to 16.5 years in prison, Brnovich said.

He also was ordered to pay $650,000 to Arizona’s Medicaid system, $11,000 to a victim and $18,000 to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for investigative costs.

“This is a huge win and it should send a message to anyone in the state,” Brnovich told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“It doesn’t matter how politically connected you are, how wealthy you are or even if you’re an elected official, the rule of law applies equally to everyone.”

In October of last year, an Arizona grand jury indicted him on 32 charges: one count each of conspiracy, forgery, theft and fraudulent schemes and artifices, and 28 counts of fraudulent schemes and practices.

Lynwood Jennet, a co-conspirator in the case, reached a plea deal in Arizona in December and agreed to cooperate with the state’s prosecution.

The charges Petersen pleaded guilty to included two from the original indictment and two uncovered during further investigation.

Petersen was accused of fraudulently claiming that pregnant women from the Marshall Islands were Arizona residents to get them health care coverage, bilking the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System out of over half a million dollars.

He initially pleaded not guilty to all of the Arizona charges Nov. 5.

Thursday’s plea deal doesn’t affect the 19 federal charges filed against Petersen in Arkansas and 11 charges in Utah related to his alleged baby-selling scheme.

Petersen is accused of illegally recruiting, transporting and paying dozens of pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to adopt out their babies in the United States.

Citizens of the Pacific islands, where Petersen completed a proselytizing mission as a member of The Church of Jesus Christs of Latter-day Saints, have been prohibited from traveling to the U.S. for adoption purposes since 2003.

The case spans three years and involves some 75 adoptions in which Petersen allegedly paid Marshallese women to have their babies in the United States and give them up for adoption.

The women allegedly were crammed into homes owned or rented by Petersen, sometimes with little to no prenatal care, according to court documents.

After being arrested Oct. 8, Petersen fought to keep his $77,000-a-year county position until he resigned Jan. 7.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors suspended Peterson for 120 days on Oct. 28, but he stepped down before the suspension was lifted.

On Feb. 14, the board picked Gilbert Councilman Eddie Cook to serve out the remainder of Petersen’s term, which runs through this year.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Peter Samore and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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