An indictment from the U.S. District Court for Western Arkansas outlined an immigration scheme whereby pregnant mothers from the Republic of the Marshall Islands were paid to fly to the United States, conceal their pregnancies, and put their babies up for adoption in the U.S.
Beginning as early as April of 2014 through March of 2015, Paul Petersen, a practicing attorney and elected official, is alleged to have wired money from a bank account in his name to another bank account belonging to a citizen of the Marshall Islands. That citizen, Maki Takehisa, is said to have then withdrawn the funds to make payments to the expecting mothers. According to the indictment, Petersen made approximately 300 wire transfers, totaling around $1,050,157.20, into a bank account controlled by Takehisa. In turn, Takehisa withdrew approximately $796,174.00 from her account.
Paul Petersen was elected Maricopa County Assessor in Arizona. USA TODAY reports that Petersen arranged for 28 pregnant Marshallese women to travel to the United States to put their children up for adoption. USA TODAY is also reporting that state Attorney General Mark Brnovich alleges that Petersen “helped these women illegally access state-funded medical benefits to the tune of $814,000.”
The Marshall Islands sit between the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippines and belong to a Compact of Free Association with the United States. While the compact allows citizens of the Marshall Islands to take up employment in the United States, it prohibits Marshallese citizens from entering the United States for purposes of adoption.
Together, Petersen and Takehisa are facing nineteen charges relating to alien smuggling, wire fraud, mail fraud, and visa fraud in the District Court for Western Arkansas. The indictment also mentions others involved in the scheme both known and unknown to the Grand Jury.
Peterson and another co-defendant are also facing charges in Arizona resulting from a multistate investigation of the immigration and smuggling scheme.