An elected Arizona leader was charged on Monday, October 28, for running a human smuggling ring operating between the Marshall Islands and the US.
The Maricopa County Assessor, Paul Peterson was suspended without pay for 120 days after it was revealed that the attorney ran a human trafficking network in which pregnant women from the Marshal Islands were brought and paid to give the children for adoption.
Authorities state the criminal case involves 75 adoptions in three years in the state alone. Other 30 adoption cases are pending in three states including Arkansas and Utah. The charges include human smuggling, child trafficking, fraud, forgery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to Associated Press.
Peterson won the election in 2014 and was re-elected for the post in 2016. Since the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors doesn't have the power to permanently remove him from his office, he was suspended after he was arrested on October 8.
Petersen's lawyer, Kurt Altman said Petersen's will fight to keep the job that pays him $77,000 a year.
Investigation revealed Petersen would pay women from the Marshall Islands, get them to stay in the United States with limited to sometimes no prenatal health care, bear their children who are later sold for adoption. Court files state that women lived in a cramped house which was found to be owned and rented by Petersen.
He is accused of charging families $25,000 to $40,000 per adoption. Petersen can request a hearing to defend himself by law.
Following the legal charges against him, the Arizona Board of Supervisors said a "neglect of duty" law allowed them to suspend him as he will not be able to commit to his duties following limited access to phones and emails in police custody. His lawyer has claimed the law allowing suspension of elected officials is unconstitutional.
An audit file saved in his official county computer revealed details about his adoption business saved. Supervisors pointed out the official computer cannot be used for personal means.
Other details such as receipts of calls over the last six years made from Petersen's desk phone and official cellphones to Arkansas, Jamaica and Phillippines and 30 emails related to the adoptions.
An interim Accessor will be made to take place Petersen's position, Board Chairman Bill Gates was quoted as saying.