SALT LAKE CITY – A former Arizona politician could serve up to 15 years in prison for operating an illegal adoption scheme involving women from the Marshall Islands after he was given his third sentence Wednesday in Utah.
Paul Petersen had already been ordered to serve 11 years in prison in Arizona and Arkansas.
Utah Judge Linda M. Jones sentenced him to 1-15 years under Utah's judicial rules that set a sentencing range and leave it up to the parole board to decide now long a person actually serves. She said the Utah sentence will run concurrently with the other prison time, which means Petersen could be done with his Utah prison time by the time he completes his other sentences or have up to four more years.
Petersen, a Republican who was Maricopa County’s assessor for six years, illegally paid women from the Pacific island nation to give up their babies in at least 70 adoption cases in Arizona, Arkansas and Utah, authorities say.
Citizens of the Marshall Islands have been prohibited from traveling to the United States for adoption purposes since 2003.
In the scheme, pregnant women were recruited and promised $10,000 in exchange for agreeing to give up their babies in adoption to families in the United States, Utah Assistant Attorney General Daniel Strong said. The women often didn’t get that full amount and were deprived of proper prenatal care and crammed into houses where some had to sleep on the floor, he said.
Adoptive families paid about $40,000 per adoption only to find they were ensnarled in an unethical and illegal scheme, Strong said.
“It casts a shadow, a pall of uncertainty and some ugliness on these adoptions that these families should not have to deal with,” he said.