The man who ran an illegal adoption scheme in Arkansas that involved the trafficking of Marshallese women’s newborn babies will spend more than six years in prison.
Paul Peterson was sentenced Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas to 74 months in prison in prison, which he will serve in a facility nearest to his home in Mesa, Arizona.
Petersen will participate in a court alcohol program, and upon release he will serve probation.
The Arkansas sentence will run concurrently on yet to be imposed sentences in the Arizona and Utah cases.
U.S. Western District of Arkansas Judge Timothy Brooks handed down the sentence and 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,” noting 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, whichever of the two is an abomination,” the judge said. “While you’re serving the public you’re ripping them off.”
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.
The sentencing for the former Maricopa County tax assessor’s hearing was held virtually in Fayetteville, with Petersen in Arizona, because of COVID-19.
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 he appreciated that this case had gained a high profile but contended that his client’s sentence should not outweigh the crime,
“I appreciate this court has taken into consideration to what was written and said. It’s a difficult situation,” Altman said. “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.
-Kurt M. Altman, PLC, is a former state and federal prosecutor and Alison Holcomb is director of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice.
This story was originally posted on the KARK website.