PHOENIX – A former Phoenix politician already in prison on a six-year sentence for operating an illegal adoption scheme involving women from the Marshall Islands was ordered to serve another five years behind bars for defrauding Arizona’s Medicaid system in a scam to get taxpayer-funded health coverage for the birth mothers, even though he knew they didn’t live in the state.
Paul Petersen, a Republican who was Maricopa County’s elected assessor for six years and worked as an adoption attorney, on Friday received the second of three sentences stemming from the adoption scheme. His five-year Arizona punishment is to be served after he completes his six-year federal sentence for conspiring to smuggle people in Arkansas.
Petersen was dressed in an orange prison suit in the Phoenix courtroom where he offered apologies and cried as he described hurting his clients, former co-workers and his own family through his practices. “I have no one to blame but myself,” Petersen said.
Authorities have said Petersen illegally paid women from the Pacific island nation to give up their babies in at least 70 adoption cases in Arizona, Arkansas and Utah. Citizens of the Marshall Islands have been prohibited from traveling to the United States for adoption purposes since 2003.
Petersen's third sentencing hearing for human smuggling convictions in Utah was scheduled for Monday, but it has since been postponed. The hearing hasn't yet been rescheduled.
He was sentenced in Arizona for submitting false applications to the state’s Medicaid system so the pregnant Marshall Islands women could receive health coverage and for providing an affidavit to a court that contained false information about expenses paid to a birth mother.
“Judges in these cases were given false information and that subverted the legal process by which judge made decisions in these adoptions,” Judge Thomas Fink said shortly before sentencing Petersen.
Prosecutors say Petersen knew the birth mothers involved in the scheme didn’t meet an Arizona requirement that Medicaid recipients reside in the state, yet he still instructed a woman working in his adoption practice to line up Medicaid coverage for them. In one case, authorities said a birth mother whose medical expenses were covered by Medicaid delivered her child a day after arriving in Arizona — and was flown out of the state about two weeks later.