Paul Petersen appeared in court for a change-of-plea hearing in Arkansas for his role in an adoption scheme that spanned multiple states. He plead guilty to one count of Conspiracy to Smuggle Illegal Aliens for Private Financial Gain and faces up to 10 years in prison.
Paul D. Petersen charged as much as $30,000 to bring pregnant women into the United States and give up their newborn children for adoption, officials said.
Petersen pleaded guilty to one count of Conspiracy to Smuggle Illegal Aliens for Private Financial Gain at a Wednesday’s (June 24) plea hearing.
The judge accepted his guilty plea and therefore convicted Petersen on one count of Conspiracy to Smuggle Illegal Aliens for Private Financial Gain.
“This plea agreement is one more step on a long road towards putting an end to the illegal adoption practices that have long plagued the Marshallese community in our District,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Fowlkes. “It is my sincere hope that this plea sends a strong message to those who would seek to take advantage of some of the more vulnerable members of our community. We will continue to investigate these cases and will continue to seek justice for all the parties involved. We will also continue to work to end this illegal adoption practice which is nothing more than a sophisticated scheme to not only take advantage of the Marshallese community, but also to swindle prospective adoptive parents out of large sums of money.”
Petersen is an Arizona elected official and was accused of paying women from the Marshall Islands to give their babies up for adoption in the United States. The adoption scheme affected Marshallese women in Northwest Arkansas as well.
According to the Plea Agreement, Petersen is a licensed attorney who practices law in Arizona, Utah, and Arkansas. During the course of the investigation, FBI and DSS agents discovered that Petersen used credit card accounts that he controlled to purchase airline tickets for several women, all citizens of the RMI who did not have official authorization to enter or reside in the United States, to travel from the RMI to the Western District of Arkansas.
This travel arranged and funded by Petersen was in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act because the women were all citizens of the RMI and were not eligible for admission into the United States under the terms of the Compact.
According to State of Arkansas Circuit Court records, the families who adopted these children paid Petersen significant sums of money for him to act as a legal facilitator of the adoptions.
Also according to the Plea Agreement, witness interviews conducted by the agents investigating Petersen revealed that it was part of the conspiracy that Petersen’s co-conspirators offered the women $10,000 to induce them to travel to the United States and consent to the adoptions.
“By preying upon both pregnant women from the Marshall Islands and loving Arkansan couples who wanted to adopt children, Mr. Petersen acted in a despicable manner and profited off individuals who simply sought to enrich their families,” said FBI Little Rock Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch. “We were proud to work alongside our partners at the Diplomatic Security Service on this investigation, and we hope Mr. Petersen’s case will serve as a warning to others who seek to financially benefit from illegal adoption practices.”
“The Diplomatic Security Service would like to thank our partners in this case, including the RMI government,” said DSS Special Agent in Charge Kapoukakis. “Together, we have prevented further victimization of Marshallese women and abuse of the Compact of Free Association between our countries that permits visa-free travel to the United States under certain conditions. The DSS remains firmly committed to leveraging our worldwide reach and partnerships to prosecute anyone who willfully violates federal law to exploit innocent and vulnerable families.”
Petersen faces 19 federal charges in Arkansas and only pleaded guilty to one of those charges. He did not plead guilty to the other 18 charges, which include four counts of Aiding and Abetting in Alien Smuggling for Commercial Advantage and Private Financial Gain, seven counts of Wire Fraud, five counts of Mail Fraud, one count of Conspiracy to Commit Visa Fraud, and one count of Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering.
Sentences can run concurrent with those imposed in Arizona and Utah but are not bound to that agreement.
Petersen’s sentence will be determined by the court at a later date. He faces a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. Petersen also faces up to 15 years in prison, a $50,000 fine and a requirement to shut down his adoption practice in Utah.
He is expected to plead guilty to a federal charge of harboring aliens for financial gain in Arkansas, which carries up to 10 years in federal prison.
Petersen entered a guilty plea on Thursday (June 18) to three counts of Fraudulent Schemes and Practice and one count of Forgery.
A sentencing date has not been set for Petersen in Arizona.
Petersen has been ordered to pay $650,000 to Arizona’s Medicaid system. Plus, he faces up to 17 years of prison in the Arizona Department of Corrections.