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OPINION

Gov. Ducey Must Pardon Wrongly Targeted Former Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen

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AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool

Former Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen is sitting in a miserable Level 1 prison surrounded by violent thugs, sex offenders and criminal illegal immigrants because he was a juicy target of prosecutors trying to show that they go after conservative religious white males too. While dangerous inmates are being sent regularly to home confinement due to the COVID-19 provisions in the CARES Act, Petersen, who is serving years in prison for his work facilitating adoptions, is stuck in Texas away from his children and unable to take advantage of any leniency available to regular criminals. Being so far away violates the 2021 First Step Act, which states that inmates shall serve time in prison as close to home as possible in order to keep them near their families and children, but no one seems to care since he’s the wrong type of victim.

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Petersen was an easy target because his so-called crime was erroneously described as baby trafficking. I first heard about his case when someone asked me to write about “baby trafficking in Maricopa County.” I investigated the story, researched the law, and turned in my article. To my surprise, my editors refused to publish it, because it didn’t go along with their agenda that Petersen was actually guilty of baby trafficking, it exonerated him. So I published the article elsewhere. It revealed how Petersen merely helped mothers from the Marshall Islands come to the U.S. to deliver unwanted babies and give them up for adoption. The mothers were grateful and were paid. Petersen fell into the business after serving as a missionary to the Marshall Islands — another reason he became a juicy target, gotta hold those devout types up to impossible standards that no one else is held up to.  

The problem was the Marshallese government decided it didn’t like competition in this area and started complaining to prosecutors about Petersen. The government wasn’t taking care of the women properly, but it still charged the same amount. They were able to point to various small technicalities, such as when the hospitals helped the women fill out Medicaid forms, they put down that the mothers were in the country for three months, but when some mothers ended up skipped out early and didn’t go through with the adoptions, that was held against Petersen. Petersen paid their regular prenatal costs, but as with most poor women, the hospitals had the mothers sign paperwork for emergency AHCCCS for the births. 

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Marshallese mothers who want their babies adopted are not illegal immigrants but are designated legal residents by the U.S. government. Now, birth moms who come illegally across the border have their delivery costs fully covered by Medicaid (known as AHCCCS in Arizona), costing hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds in Arizona alone, no questions asked. Yet government prosecutors claimed the poor Marshallese women weren’t eligible for coverage. An adoption attorney from Hawaii in the business for 30 years who used the same adoption practices with Marshallese pregnant mothers was not prosecuted.

How are the costs for births by illegal immigrants covered yet legal residents are not? After Petersen was arrested, the remaining dozen or more adoptions were still paid for by AHCCCS. If that was such a serious crime, why was it allowed to continue?

Coincidentally — and some believe in part because lawmakers were horrified at what happened to Petersen — the law was changed after Petersen’s conviction to clarify that the Marshallese are eligible for Medicaid since they are legal residents of the U.S. When laws are changed after a criminal conviction, they are often used as a reason to consider leniency. 

Normally, such technicalities would have been resolved as paperwork errors, corrected after the fact. But since Petersen was such a big juicy target, a devout religious conservative, he wasn’t allowed that opportunity. Prosecutors in three jurisdictions — Arizona, Utah, and a federal district court in Arkansas — threatened him with so many years in prison that he felt he had no choice but to take a plea deal. Prosecutors had his assets frozen so he was unable to adequately take on three levels of prosecution. 

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The federal district court judge in Arkansas made it clear in his sentencing that the sentences were all to run concurrently, so Petersen would end up spending five to six years in prison. But bizarrely, a detainer was placed on his sentence from Arizona so that sentence is not running concurrently, and he will be forced to serve it out on top of the other sentences, resulting in 11 years in prison, a sentence usually associated with violent or sex offenders. All for a first time white collar offense that most people would not go to prison for. Normally, detainers are placed on inmates’ sentences because they are a flight risk, like illegal immigrants. 

The detainer prevents Petersen from being eligible for home confinement and early release programs, unable to take advantage of the First Step Act which common thugs get to use to shave time off their sentences. 

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has a few days left in office to right this wrong. He could pardon Petersen or at a minimum help get the detainer lifted, by asking the prosecution to remove it. Or he could ask the federal judge, Bureau of Prisons or Arizona state judge to ensure the sentence is concurrent. 

Petersen helped over a thousand parents adopt babies, there are testimonial videos from grateful parents praising the excellent job he did. He paid off the entire $700,000 that was alleged to be fraud immediately, something that should have resulted in some leniency. 

Supporters of Petersen are urging people to contact Ducey about this. His term as governor ends on Jan. 4. The facts of this case are complex and messy, so it’s been easy to destroy a young man’s life for political points. But if someone doesn’t start pushing back at the left’s lawfare that has escalated to prosecution against prominent conservatives, it will create easy precedents that can then be used to go after others.  

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