NORTHWEST, Ark. (KNWA) — A Northwest Arkansas attorney is indicted after being accused of running a five-year adoption fraud scheme.
Paul D. Petersen is an adoption lawyer in Utah and Arizona and has routinely practiced law in Arkansas since 2014.
According to U.S. Attorney Duane “DAK” Kees, Petersen is believed to have transported 100 pregnant Marshallese women to Arkansas over the last five years, forcing them to put their babies up for adoption.
Since 2014 federal officers have investigated him for fraudulent adoptions and on Tuesday (October 8) he was arrested in Arizona.
Petersen faces 19 charges in Arkansas, 32 charges in Arizona, and 11 more in Utah.
Petersen would recruit, transport, and pay dozens of Marshallese women to give their babies up for adoption in the United States.
Kees said the women were treated like “property” and that “this is the purest form of human trafficking”.
Although locals are satisfied with the work of everyone involved, they said this is only one step in the right direction.
For years, Josh Bryant, a Rogers attorney, has been trying to find ways to stop this criminal activity.
“It’s good to know that we’re taking some large steps toward stopping the use of our adoption courts as a means of human trafficking,” Bryant said.
He said he is proud of the work put in to get Petersen behind bars, but one arrest doesn’t stop all future occurrences.
It certainly re-energizes and brings maybe a little bit more legitimacy to the minds of some who were uncertain about the need of adoption change.Josh Bryant
Bryant said as an adoptive parent this is certainly a big step in the right direction and it makes him feel proud he can tell his children that wrongs were righted.
“When they grow up and see the stories and ask the question, “Was I trafficked?” we don’t know how we’re going to have that conversation,” he said. “What I do know is we’re gonna be able to tell them about today.”
Michaela Montie is the Executive Director of Shared Beginnings.
She too, is an adoptive parent.
“I founded Shared Beginnings because walking through that first adoption six years ago with a different local attorney there were huge red flags,” Montie said. “I will someday have to explain to my children what was happening in Marshallese adoptions when they were young.”
Both Montie and Bryant want to encourage any expectant mothers out there or anyone who has made an adoption plan through Petersen to reach out for help.
Petersen has multiple open cases where the child has not been born yet.
Kees said if found guilty on all charges, Petersen would face a $5 million fine and 315 years in prison.