ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — The man who ran an illegal adoption scheme in Arkansas that involved the trafficking of Marshallese women’s newborn babies was sentenced on Tuesday, December 1, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas to 74 months (6 years, 2 months) in prison and will be in a facility nearest to his home in Mesa, Arizona.
U.S. Western District of Arkansas Judge Timothy Brooks handed down the sentence.
Paul Petersen will participate in a court alcohol program and was fined $100,000. Upon release, he will serve probation with several stipulations.
The Arkansas sentence will run concurrently on yet to be imposed sentences in the Arizona and Utah cases.
Judge Brooks described Petersen as someone who led a double life. “The good Mr. Petersen and the bad Mr. Petersen.”
The judge also called his adoption business a “side hustle.” That he had a day job as an elected official in Maricopa County earning more than $70,000 a year. “You would be serving the citizens of Arizona while committing Medicare, Medicaid, [fraud], whichever of the two is an abomination. While you’re serving the public, you’re ripping them off.”
Judge Brooks: “While the court had reservations, whether Mr. Petersen has tried to stop rationalizing his actions, the court accepts his statement as genuine.“
Petersen’s actions violated a 1983 Compact of Free Association with the United States, according to the court.
Of the 19 charges Petersen faced in Arkansas, he agreed to a plea deal of one count of human trafficking on June 24, 2020. This meant he faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Guilty to Count 1: conspiracy to engage in smuggling illegal aliens for private and commercial financial gain.
The sentencing for the former Maricopa County tax assessor’s hearing was held virtually in Fayetteville, with Petersen in Arizona, because of COVID-19.
The court dismissed charges two through 19 at the sentencing.
At the virtual hearing, four people spoke on his behalf, including his brother, Landon Petersen, and ex-wife, Raquel. They all asked for the court to show mercy and consider leniency.
Petersen’s attorney Kurt Altman told Judge Brooks, “I appreciate this court has taken into consideration to what was written and said. It’s a difficult situation. Ultimately, the sentence needs to be fashioned to promote respect for the law. I submit, 120 months is too great.”
Earlier in June 2020, he pleaded guilty to human smuggling and fraud in Arizona and Utah.
Petersen, 45, will be sentenced in Arizona and Utah in January 2021.
THOSE INVOLVED IN THE INVESTIGATION
- U.S. Department of State (DSS)
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs
- Department of Criminal Division
- First Assistant U.S. Attorney David Clay Fowlkes (prosecuted case)
- Deputy Criminal Chief Kim Harris (prosecuted case)
- Assistant U.S. Attorney Sydney Butler (prosecuted case)