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Arizona GOP ex-official pleads guilty to smuggling pregnant teen prostitutes, running baby-selling adoption scheme

Arizona GOP ex-official pleads guilty to smuggling pregnant teen prostitutes, running baby-selling adoption scheme

The scourge of human trafficking and the buying and selling of people is as alive today as it ever was before, and often times hides in broad daylight. A former Republican official from Arizona has pleaded guilty to a federal human smuggling charge, putting an end to a deeply disturbing child selling ring in which pregnant girls from the Marshall Islands were trafficked into the United States so their babies could be put up for adoption.

Former Maricopa county assessor and “adoption lawyer” Paul D. Petersen faces up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine for his role in the multi-state human trafficking ring in Arkansas alone; he faced a total of 62 felony counts between indictments in Arkansas, Utah, and Arizona.

Petersen would pay the women, some of whom were as young as fifteen years old, between $7,300 and $10,800 to travel to the U.S. and have their babies. Petersen would then charge adoptive families up to $30,000 for his work as a “legal facilitator,” while racking up tens of thousands more in “expenses,” reports the New York TimesWhile he told the families their money would be used to pay for things like medical expenses, he also provided false residency information in order to get Arizona’s Medicaid program to pay for the births of at least 29 women.

Unsurprisingly, he would also falsify the information on adoption papers to get courts to approve them. He would then send the women back to the Marshall Islands after he sold their babies.

The girls were procured in the Marshall Islands by his co-conspirator, Lynwood Jennett, who revealed that not only were many of the girls underage, they were also taken from a prostitution camp where they were exploited for sex work in exchange for food and shelter. Jennett, who is from the Marshall Islands but lives in the United States, would receive a call whenever one of the women at the camp fell pregnant.

The Marshall Islands has a long history of exploitation by American adoption agencies, so much so that the visa treaty between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands specifically forbids traveling to the United States for the purposes of adoption.

It is appalling to find out that this pro-life Republican, who was once a Mormon missionary, was selling the children of exploited teen prostitutes for his own personal gain — but honestly, it’s extremely on brand for today’s modern Republican Party.

Original reporting by Azi Paybarah at the New York Times.

Additional reporting from Dillion Roseblatt at the AZ Capitol Times. 

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