Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen pleaded not guilty in the Arizona adoption scandal Tuesday morning.
The arraignment hearing at the Maricopa County Superior Court was Petersen’s first court appearance after being indicted in early Oct. 2019. Lynwood Jennet was also indicted along with Petersen.
According to his Initial Release document, Petersen faces 32 charges: one count of conspiracy, one count of fraudulent scheme, one count of theft, 28 counts on fraud schemes, and one count of forgery.
Jennet faces the same charges as Petersen. According to Petersen’s Initial Release document, Jennet works under Petersen and would help the mothers that were flown into the U.S. apply for Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).
In the hearing, Judge Thomas Kaipo said “a not guilty plea is entered” on behalf of Petersen and that his next court days are Dec. 19, 2019 and Jan. 22, 2019.
Petersen was represented by his private counsel, Kurt Altman. Altman, after the hearing, said that they are also scheduled for another hearing in Arkansas on Dec. 5, 2019. Petersen did not take any questions, but Altman and Kory Langhofer, who specialized in constitutional law, spoke on his behalf.
According to the Initial Appearance document, women were flown to Utah or Arkansas and eventually brought to Arizona to give birth. From Nov. 30, 2015 to May 30, 2019, 28 women have been found to give 29 births, since one mother gave birth twice, in Arizona.
In Dec. 2018, Arizona detectives received “information pertaining to suspicious activity involving an Arizona adoption attorney conducting adoptions with babies from the Republic of the Marshall Islands” from what the Initial Appearance document defines as an SOI.
Under the Compact of Free Association, an international agreement between the Marshall Islands and the U.S., women need a special visa to come to the U.S. for adoption purposes.
The document said that Petersen was charging families who were interested in adopting a child $35,000, claiming that the sum covered medical costs. The document stated, however, that birthmothers had their medical costs covered by AHCCCS.
On the county assessor website, it states that Petersen has worked or the county for the past 14 years. He graduated from the Sandra Day O’Connor Law School at Arizona State University in 2002 and worked eight years in the Assessor’s Office as the agency’s public information officer and as the assessor’s representative at the Arizona Legislature.
In 2014 he won the special election for Maricopa County Assessor and was reelected for a second term in 2016. Langhofer said that Petersen has not resigned from his position and will continue with his duties during the court appearances.
“There are two things you need to know. First off, no one is saying Paul Pertersen didn’t do his job as Maricopa County Assessor very well,” he said. “Everyone agrees he did the job, he showed up, (and) got done what needed to be done. That is not the issue.”
The second thing, Langhofer said, is that Petersen can’t be removed under constitutional law. As the case moves forward, Langhofer said Petersen had a lot of things to think about.
“They have decided to throw him out regardless of what the constitution says,” he said. “Paul Petersen is a constitutional officer and you can’t just have a meeting one day and throw him out…There certainly is a lawsuit in the making here.”