ARIZONA (KFSM) — Paul Petersen, a man accused of operating a sprawling adoption scheme targeting Marshallese women in three states, has pleaded not guilty to charges related to his case in Arizona.
According to our content partner KPNX out of Arizona, Petersen entered a not guilty plea to charges including conspiracy, fraudulent schemes and artifices, forgery, theft, and fraudulent schemes and practices.
Petersen is accused of targeting Marshallese women in Arizona, Arkansas and Utah
Petersen pleaded not guilty in Fayetteville on 19 felony offenses, including human smuggling for financial gain, aiding in the trafficking of humans for financial gain, and wire fraud, according to federal authorities.
Dak Kees, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, said Petersen "used his law license ... to prey not only upon the women of the Marshall Islands but on many innocent families here in Arkansas who wanted nothing more than to add to their families."
Petersen was released on bond in Arkansas and traveled back to Arizona.
The alleged scheme ran by Petersen accuses him of offering Marshallese women $10,000 to come to the U.S. to have a baby and later put it up for adoption. It was discovered that the women were paid much less than what was initially offered and that some lived in cramped conditions. Investigators say Petersen also violated the Immigration National Act and a compact allowing Marshall Islanders to easily enter the US. The compact prohibits travel for the purpose of adoption.
Shared Beginnings, a Fayetteville non-profit organization, is asking for donations and supplies to help the expecting mothers swept up in Petersen's alleged scheme.