FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Former Arizona official Paul Petersen changed his plea to guilty to one count in an Arkansas human trafficking case.
Guilty to Count 1: conspiracy to engage in smuggling illegal aliens for private and commercial financial gain.
The plea means Petersen faces 10 years in prison, a fine up to $250,000, and supervised release up to three years. A mandatory assessment of $100, and an additional federal statute that imposes a mandatory $5,000 fine.
U.S. Western District of Arkansas Judge Timothy Brooks accepted Petersens’ guilty plea. There will be a pre-sentence investigation, and a sentencing hearing will be done in about four months.
Court records indicate Petersen has been compliant while out on bond and will remain free with the following requirements:
- Remain out on bond until the sentencing hearing.
- Must stay in Maricopa County, Arizona. Except with advance notification of travel for “good cause” to Navajo County, Arizona and he must apprise his probation officer.
- GPS monitoring that will be supervised by his Arizona probation officer.
- Allowed to travel to other states if it’s due to future court proceedings.
The remaining 18 Counts are:
- Counts: 2-5: aiding and abetting
- Counts: 6-12 wire fraud
- Counts: 13-17 mail fraud
- Count: 18 visa fraud
- Count: 19 money laundering
Petersen is accused of illegally paying Marshallese women to come to the United States and give up their babies.
Earlier in June he pleaded guilty to human smuggling and fraud in Arizona and Utah.
In the case of the US vs Paul Petersen, Judge Timothy Brooks handled the change of plea. “Plea agreements are like a contract,” said Judge Brooks. “The court could accept the guilty plea with additional provisions.” For example, the government recommends for sentences to run concurrently in the Arizona and Utah cases.
The plea was entered through a video conference due to COVID-19. Attorney Kurt Altman was with Petersen in Arizona. Scott Williams and George Niblock are his Arkansas attorneys and were said to be on the video call.
Only a part of the charges against Petersen was read in court. Prosecutors allege that the FBI, other federal agencies, and local law enforcement had been watching Petersen’s actions for several years. That he orchestrated the travel to of several women from the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) to the Western District of Arkansas.
It’s alleged that he used various credit cards to purchase flights for four women between XNA and RMI. The document detailed the dates of travel, where the women lived in Arkansas, where they gave birth, and dates the adoptions took place beginning in 2014.
Petersen, who had a co-conspirator, was paid up to $30,000 by the adopting parents, he then would pay approximately $10,000 to the birth mother and return the woman to RMI.
“[He] paid RJ $10,300 … she lived in a house in DeQueen, Arkansas, and was there with several other women, then returned to RMI,” the document states. “Petersen facilitated [this] … for the purpose of private financial gain.”
Also, this type of travel violates the 1982 Compact of Free Association (COFA), an international agreement between the U.S. and the three Pacific Islands: Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), RMI and Palau.
ABOUT PAUL PETERSEN
Petersen, 44, lives in Mesa, Arizona, and was the Maricopa County, Arizona, assessor for six years. He resigned in January 2020.
He stated to Judge Brooks that he is divorced, a father of four children — ages 12 – 4. He graduated from Arizona State University where he also got his law degree in 2002.
In October 2019, Petersen entered not guilty pleas to fraud and smuggling charges. Nineteen charges are in Arkansas.
He is allowed to practice law in Arizona, Utah, and Arkansas. But, the former county assessor said since arrest he has had few opportunities for employment.