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Press Release

Arizona Adoption Attorney Sentenced To Over 6 Years In Prison For Alien Smuggling For Financial Gain

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Arkansas

Fayetteville, Arkansas – First Assistant United States Attorney David Clay Fowlkes for the Western District of Arkansas, Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch of the FBI Little Rock Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Peter Kapoukakis of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, Miami Field Office and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced that Paul Petersen, age 45, of Mesa, Arizona was sentenced today to 72 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release and ordered to pay a fine and court costs totaling $105,100.00 for Conspiracy to Smuggle Illegal Aliens for Commercial Advantage and Private Financial Gain. The Honorable Timothy L. Brooks presided over the sentencing in the U.S. District Court in Fayetteville.

“The defendant in this case violated the laws of three states and two countries during the course of his criminal scheme,” stated First Assistant United States Attorney Fowlkes.”  He exploited a legal loophole and used it to run an International adoption business outside the necessary oversight from the United States or the Republic of the Marshall Islands.  During the scheme, the defendant lied to state court judges, falsified records, encouraged others to lie during court proceedings, and manipulated birth mothers into consenting to adoptions they did not fully understand.  This unique case merited the strong sentence ordered by the Court today.  It is our sincere hope that this sentence sends a message to those who would seek to conduct human trafficking operations in the Western District of Arkansas, and to those who would seek to manipulate and take advantage of people like the Marshallese citizens in this case.”

According to the Plea Agreement filed in this case, the FBI, the DSS and local law enforcement, have been actively investigating the criminal activities of Paul Petersen, 44, of Mesa, Arizona, for several years. During the course of the investigation, law enforcement determined that the defendant, Paul Petersen, among other things, orchestrated the travel of several pregnant women from the Republic of the Marshall Islands to the Western District of Arkansas.  The purpose of this travel was for Petersen to arrange adoption of their children by families living in the United States. 

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is an island country near the equator in the Pacific Ocean, slightly west of the International Date Line.  In 1983, the United States entered into a Compact of Free Association (hereinafter, the “Compact”) with the RMI government.  The United States and the RMI signed an Amended Compact in 2003, which Congress codified at Public Law 108-188.  Section 141 of the Compact grants RMI citizens the ability to freely enter and take up employment within the United States.  Section 141(b) prohibits RMI citizens from entering the United States under the Compact agreement if their travel is for the purpose of adoption.

According to the Plea Agreement, the Defendant, Paul Petersen, is a licensed attorney who practices law in Arizona, Utah, and Arkansas.  During the course of the investigation, FBI and DSS agents discovered that Petersen used credit card accounts that he controlled to purchase airline tickets for several women, all citizens of the RMI who did not have official authorization to enter or reside in the United States, to travel from the RMI to the Western District of Arkansas.  This travel arranged and funded by Petersen was in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act because the women were all citizens of the RMI and were not eligible for admission into the United States under the terms of the Compact.  According to State of Arkansas Circuit Court records, the families who adopted these children paid Petersen significant sums of money for him to act as a legal facilitator of the adoptions.  Finally, also according to the Plea Agreement, witness interviews conducted by the agents investigating Petersen revealed that it was part of the conspiracy that Petersen’s co-conspirators offered the women $10,000 to induce them to travel to the United States and consent to the adoptions.

 A federal grand jury indicted Petersen in October 2019, and he entered a guilty plea in June 2020.

The FBI and the DSS conducted the investigation. First Assistant United States Attorney David Clay Fowlkes, Deputy Criminal Chief Kim Harris, and Assistant United States Attorney Sydney Butler are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs of the Department’s Criminal Division also assisted in the investigation.

Updated December 1, 2020

Human Trafficking