Arkansas judge: Court to hear 19 adoption scheme cases

Remigio Civitarese
Ottobre 12, 2019

Petersen, who is a licensed attorney in Arizona, Arkansas, and Utah, is accused of paying Marshallese women to travel to the USA and place their babies up for adoption.

"These are proper business practice that they simply disagree with", attorney Matthew Long said.

Petersen served a two-year mission in the Marshall Islands for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Reyes said. Petersen would pay for the women to travel to the US days or months before giving birth and live in a home that he owned until delivering the baby, according to the court records.

Petersen, who was indicted this week in three states on charges including human smuggling, sale of a child, money laundering, fraud, forgery, and theft, is accused of flying pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to the USA with the promise of $10,000 to put their babies up for adoption.

Authorities will not work to "unwind" any of the adoptions, which violated a compact banning Marshallese residents from traveling to the USA for adoptions without a special visa, Reyes said.

One adoptive couple told police they visited a residence in West Valley City that housed at least 15 pregnant women - a "baby mill" that the couple claimed "just did not seem right", according to charging documents cited by the newspaper.

"It makes me sick to my stomach", she said after being told how expectant mothers were allegedly herded inside the home. Fayetteville attorney Andrea McCurdy is now representing all the birth mothers.

"Many of these mothers described their ordeal as being treated like property", said Duane Kees, the USA attorney for the western district of Arkansas, speaking about one of the residences in that state.

"Many of these mothers described their ordeal as being treated like property", Kees said.

The case came to light in October 2017 when a state investigator received a tip from the Utah Attorney General's Human Trafficking tip line. Prosecutors say he would then charge families $25,000-$40,000 per adoption, with court documents showing that two years of fees saw the racket bring in around $2.7 million in revenue.

The scheme defrauded Arizona's Medicaid system of $800,000 because the women had no intention of remaining in the state when they applied, according to Arizona prosecutors.

According to authorities, the Compact of Free Association between the United States and the Marshall Islands prohibits the Marshallese from travelling to the United States for the goal of adoption.

Earlier on Friday, an Arkansas-based lawyer said a judge there has agreed to appoint a lawyer for Marshallese women who'd been working with Petersen to put their children up for adoption.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said adoptive parents who went through Petersen's agency have nothing to worry about. "It is also worth repeating that despite what some may say to keep women in a specific adoption plan, no one is going to jail for getting help".

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