Arizona Attorney Facing Federal Charges For Adoption Scheme In Western Arkansas

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KFSM) -- The assessor of Arizona's largest county has been indicted in connection with 11 felony offenses in Arkansas, including human smuggling for financial gain, aiding in the trafficking of humans for financial gain, and wire fraud, according to federal authorities.

Dak Kees, U.S. Attorney of the Western District of Arkansas, addressed Paul Petersen's connection to Northwest Arkansas in a press conference Wednesday (Oct. 9).

In 2014, Petersen -- a licensed attorney in Arizona, Arkansas, and Utah -- devised a scheme to defraud and obtain money and property from unknowing adoptive parents and others, according to Kees.

He paid pregnant Marshallese women money to persuade them to travel to the Western District of Arkansas and to put their babies up for adoption in the area.

"We have uncovered no evidence ... that any adoptive parents or adoptive family in Arkansas has engaged in any misconduct," Kees said.

Kees says Petersen purchased airline tickets from the birth mothers and caused them to conceal their real travel purpose from the authorities in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) and the United States.

Petersen would open adoption cases that were supported by documents containing fraudulent material and false statements. Kee's claims Petersen caused these fraudulent cases to be filed in the Circuit Clerk's Office in Washington and Polk counties.

"(Petersen) used his law license ... to prey not only upon the women of the Marshall Islands but on many innocent families here in Arkansas who wanted nothing more than to add to their families," Kees said.

Petersen charged families $40,000 per adoption and paid the mother of the adopted children less than $10,000 for their babies. It's alleged he intentionally concealed his involvement in the payments to the Marshallese women and conducted wire transactions to transfer more than one million dollars into a bank account.

The indictment against Petersen claims, for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain, he encouraged and induced three RMI citizens to come to, enter, and reside in the United States, knowing it would be a violation of the law. Petersen would ask the women to make false claims to government

Investigators say the suspect violated the Immigration National Act and a compact allowing Marshall Islanders to easily enter the US. The compact prohibits travel for the purpose of adoption.

Neighbors of Peterson say there were always pregnant women in and out of a Mesa apartment complex. Eight Marshallese women were found inside the Arizona apartment during a raid Tuesday (Oct. 8) night.

Local nonprofit attorny Josh Bryant says Peterson's scheme leaves the women in a foreign country without many options.

"Because of schemes like this one where they are brought to the United States they are promised money they are promised a better life, they don’t speak English they don’t have any appreciable job skills so after they give birth and kicked on the curb the only way they know how to make money is to get pregnant again," Bryant says.

Michaela Montie created a non-profit in Northwest Arkansas to help birth mothers navigate the adoption process after adopting her son, who is Marshallese, six years ago.

Montie says after the news broke about the scheme she knows many families and women will now need guidance.

"Shared Beginnings is here to offer our services and support to expecting mothers who don’t have anywhere to turn or adoptive parents who don’t know what to do with this news," Montie said.

Last week (Oct. 4), a Springdale woman was arrested in connection to a Marshallese adoption scheme.

After a two-year-long investigation, federal agents detained Maki Takehisa in connection to bringing pregnant women to Northwest Arkansas from the Marshall Islands to convince them to give their babies up for adoption in exchange for large sums of money.

Stay with 5NEWS as we continue to follow this developing story.

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