(AP) — The Board of Supervisors for Arizona's largest county has unanimously agreed to uphold the suspension and push for the removal of the county assessor, who is charged in a wide-ranging adoption scheme.
The Maricopa County attorney is to now start the process to remove Paul Petersen, who was arrested and charged in a scheme involving the adoption of babies from the Marshall Islands.
Petersen is accused of paying women from the Marshall Islands to give their babies for adoption by American families. He's pleaded not guilty in Arizona and Arkansas and has not yet entered a plea in Utah.
Board members said during their Friday special meeting that Petersen's county laptop held many documents related to his adoption business. Content recovered on the laptop and noted in a report to the board included text messages of pregnant women being threatened when they changed their minds about giving up their newborns. Petersen denies any wrongdoing.
Families were allegedly charged around $35,000 to adopt the Marshallese babies.
Prosecutors say he paid the women up to $10,000 to come to the United States, where they were allegedly crammed into houses to wait to give birth and give up their babies for adoption. He faces charges in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas that include human smuggling, sale of a child, fraud, forgery and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
He was indicted in October in connection with 11 felony offenses in Arkansas, including human smuggling for financial gain, aiding in the trafficking of humans for financial gain, and wire fraud, according to federal authorities.
The Arkansas federal trial for Petersen has been delayed until February 16, 2021.
According to court documents, the continuance was granted to give Petersen's counsel more time to prepare for the trial.
A pretrial conference has been set for January 29, 2021.