SALT LAKE CITY ( KTVX & WIAT) – An elected official is charged with 11 felonies in Utah including human smuggling, sale of a child and communications fraud.
Paul D. Petersen was arrested in Arizona Tuesday following charges by the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
Authorities say Petersen is an adoption lawyer licensed in Utah and Arizona and is the elected County Assessor for Maricopa County.
WATCH: Adoption Lawyer and Arizona Official charged with human smuggling
The AG’s office alleges Petersen ran an illegal adoption scheme where he “recruited, transported, and offered payment to pregnant Marshallese women to give their babies up for adoption in the United States.”
The United States and the Marshall Islands have an agreement that prohibits this type of international adoption.
Investigators say Petersen “failed to disclose the compact and other material aspects of his scheme to adoptive parents who paid him to facilitate their adoptions.”
Petersen is believed to have transported more than 40 pregnant Marshallese women into Utah over the last three years. He faces charges for related offenses in Arkansas and Arizona.
“Petersen’s illegal adoption scheme exploited highly vulnerable groups in two countries—the birth mothers and families in the Marshall Islands and the adoptive parents here in Utah,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes in a statement. “It is heartbreaking that these families from both countries were so cruelly manipulated.”
Chief Criminal Deputy Spencer Austin said investigators were first tipped off by concerned hospital workers cold-calling the human trafficking tip line.
“We always say, ‘If you see something, say something.’ I think these charges prove that if you do say something, we will listen. We will use every resource at our disposal to put a stop to these horrendous crimes,” said Austin.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office has set up a hotline to assist anyone affected by Petersen’s alleged offenses: 801-839-5640. Caseworkers with the Refugee and Immigrant Center – Asian Association of Utah are in place and ready to help any victims of this scheme.