Ex-Arizona Official Paul Petersen Gets Six Years for Smuggling Pregnant Women Into U.S. to Sell Their Babies

An Arizona man was sentenced to six years behind bars Tuesday for smuggling pregnant women into America as part of an illegal adoption scheme that operated in three states and helped to bankroll his luxurious lifestyle.

Paul Petersen, a Republican former Maricopa County assessor and adoption lawyer, pleaded guilty in June to paying expectant mothers from the Republic of the Marshall Islands—a chain of islands between Hawaii and the Philippines—to have babies in the U.S. and give them up to adoptive families in exchange for thousands of dollars.

During his sentencing hearing, however, Petersen denied knowing that his employees in the adoption fraud operation had coerced these women by threatening to take away their passports if they tried to back out of the deal.

“I did treat everyone in their situation, on all sides of the adoption, with respect,” Petersen told the court. “I did try to promote respect for Marshallese culture. I got into adoptions because quite simply I loved the Marshall Islands and the Marshallese people.”

“If even one of these beautiful ladies felt wronged, it’s one too many,” added Petersen, a father of four and a licensed attorney in Arkansas, Arizona, and Utah. He reportedly got involved in Marshallese adoptions in 1998 while working on the islands as a missionary through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks sentenced Petersen, 45, to 74 months in federal prison and $105,100 in fines for one count of “conspiracy to smuggle illegal aliens for private financial gain.” Petersen’s sentence includes three years of supervised release after he leaves a federal prison in Arizona.

Prosecutors accused Petersen of falsifying records, lying to state court judges, and instructing the pregnant women to lie during court proceedings as part of the scheme. David Clay Fowlkes, first assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, said Petersen also “manipulated birth mothers into consenting to adoptions they did not fully understand.”

In a sentencing memorandum filed this month, prosecutors said Petersen’s operation exploited poor women who didn’t speak English and threatened them if they tried to get out of the adoptions. They said the scheme helped to fund a lavish lifestyle for Petersen and his family which included multiple residences, trips to New York and California, luxury cars, and “a large residence in an exclusive gated community in Arizona.”

“The people who brought them to the United States threatened to call the police and prosecute them if they attempted to back out of the adoption proceedings,” the government added in the memorandum. “These circumstances prevented their escape as securely as if they were chained to a wall.”

The memorandum alleged the $10,000 Petersen offered the women was “an amount of money that they simply could not refuse for people that lived in poverty on a remote island.”

“Notably, however, the birth mothers actually received far less than they were promised and had ‘living expenses’ deducted from their promised payment, living expenses which consisted of them being housed in

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St. Paul takeout: Family style meals

Restaurants need our help, now more than ever.

To that end, we would like to encourage you to order gift cards, merchandise or takeout from your favorites to see them through the next few weeks of in-person dining being shut down.

My family has been getting takeout from local restaurants whenever we can, and I especially love family-style meals that mean I don’t have to take everyone’s orders.

Here are some awesome meals we’ve had lately. I have a whole long list of places offering family-style to try, so expect me to tell you about them as I do.

We will get through this, together. And hopefully, these restaurants will be there on the other side of it.

If you’ve had some great takeout lately, tell us about it (photos are welcome too) by emailing us at [email protected]

Frozen lasagna from Mucci’s in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)


On any given day, if you ask my kids what they want, in their heart of hearts, barring time limits or anything else, their answer will be lasagna. So how awesome is it that Mucci’s has figured out how to package one of their favorite versions of it in frozen form? Buy one to feed the family today and grab another to throw in the freezer next time you don’t have an answer for the question, “What’s for dinner?” It takes over an hour to bake in the oven, but the tender noodles, zippy sauce and tasty meat are nearly as good as when you get it fresh from the restaurant. They also have fresh pasta and sauce and frozen pizzas if you’re looking for a delicious shortcut that’s a little faster.

786 Randolph Ave., St. Paul; 651-330-2245; muccisitalian.com

Urban Growler

Oh, how I love this little brewery, for its delicious beers, but also its earnest, tasty bar food. On a recent night, while perusing menus for family-style options, I happened upon its pandemic-inspired menu, which includes fried chicken, mac and cheese, braised pork and more. Of course, my kids chose lasagna (I told you) and it was really, shockingly good and came with a salad and garlic bread. We also ordered a family-style box of brownies, which were ultra chocolaty and came with caramel whipped cream and caramel sauce, which my dessert-loving teens were really happy about. If you’re in the market for individual meals, their entire menu of sandwiches, tacos, kids meals and appetizers, including some of our favorite nachos in town, is available, too. And of course, don’t forget the beer. You can pick up crowlers of fresh, delicious suds with your order.

2325 Endicott St., St. Paul; 651-340-5793; urbangrowlerbrewing.com

Bennett’s Chop and Railhouse

Family-style meatloaf from Bennett’s Chop and Railhouse in St. Paul. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

This scrappy little West Seventh steakhouse is still plugging along, offering curbside takeout, including some very homestyle family meals. We argued a bit before settling on the meatloaf, which turned out to be a solid choice. Thick

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