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Adoption attorney arrested for paying pregnant Marshallese women to give up children in Arkansas

Paul Petersen allegedly arranged travel for pregnant women from the Republic of the Marshall Islands to Arkansas to give up their children.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arizona adoption attorney is facing several federal charges in Arkansas after being arrested in California Tuesday evening.

Paul Petersen, who is an assessor in Maricopa County and an attorney that practices law in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas, reportedly "devised a scheme to defraud and obtain money and property from unknowing adoptive parents and others."

According to the Department of Justice, Petersen would pay pregnant Marsallese women to travel to Arkansas and put their babies up for adoption. He allegedly bought airline tickets and had them hide the motive to travel from Republic of Marshall Islands and United States authorities.

"In furtherance of this scheme, Petersen caused adoption case files to be opened that were supported by documents containing fraudulent material false statements," the DOJ press release stated.

Those documents were then filed in Washington and Polk counties.

Authorities say Petersen reportedly hid his involvement in the payments, transferring "more than one million dollars into a bank account." 

He has been charged with one count of conspiracy to smuggle illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain, four counts of aiding and abetting, 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.

Petersen is facing additional charges in Arizona. Lynwood Jennet has also been charged in relation to the scheme.

The adoption attorney made an appeal in court on Wednesday, December 11, to keep his job because "he did not neglect his duties in office." 

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously back in October to place Petersen on an unpaid suspension for 120 days, ruling he'd neglected his office and used his county computer to do work for his adoption business.

Petersen has pleaded not guilty in Arkansas, Utah and Arizona cases that stem from his law practice.

RELATED: Arizona man indicted in international adoption fraud scheme involving human smuggling, sale of kids

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