An Arizona official is facing charges in three separate states after authorities say he operated a massive adoption scheme that brought more than 40 pregnant women to the United States from the Marshall Islands to give up their babies in exchange for money. He's accused of paying thousands of dollars to pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to travel to the US, where they were crammed into houses to await giving birth for adoption.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes talks about the case against Paul D. Petersen during a news conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on October 9, 2019.
Prosecutors allege that Petersen "recruited, transported, and offered payment" to more than 40 pregnant women from the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific between December 2016 and August 2019.
Petersen's attorney, Matthew Long, defended his client's actions during a court hearing in Phoenix Wednesday.
Milstead said Petersen's adoption practices came into suspicion when authorities received a tip about possible procedural illegality. Prosecutors say he would then charge families $25,000-$40,000 per adoption, with court documents showing that two years of fees saw the racket bring in around $2.7 million in revenue.
The Marshall Islands sit between the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippines and belong to a Compact of Free Association with the United States.
The expecting mothers were often crowded in the homes, with little in the way of prenatal care, The Associated Press reported.
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"Many appeared to be sleeping on mattresses on a bare floor", the affidavit states.
Petersen's Mesa, Arizona, home is worth more than $600,000 and located in an affluent, gated community.
She was told it had been used as a rental, and since purchasing it she has found trash like dirty diapers in the bushes, she said. "It makes me sick to my stomach".
In granting the injunction, Martin appointed Fayetteville attorney Andrea McCurdy to serve as an advocate representing all expecting biological mothers in Arkansas who were in the process of adoption with Petersen.
One adoptive couple told police they visited a residence in West Valley City that housed at least 15 pregnant women - a "baby mill" that the couple claimed "just did not seem right", according to charging documents cited by the newspaper.
Under a compact between the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Marshallese citizens can enter the USA and work without a visa, unless they're travelling for the objective of adoption, authorities said.
A Rogers woman has also established a non-profit to help birth mothers navigate the adoption process after adopting her son, who is Marshallese, six years ago. "No one's going to go back and redo adoptions or any of that kind of stuff", says Arizona's attorney general.
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