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SOUTH JORDAN – When Dallas and Angie Lundquist were first matched for adoption with a pregnant woman from the Marshall Islands, it seemed like an answer to their prayers. They had heard of the adoption agency, run by Paul Petersen, the now-former Maricopa County, Arizona, assessor through a friend of a friend.
“Seemed like a great thing,” Angie Lundquist said, adding that they researched the agency online as well. “That’s when we came across who he was, and what he was doing, and all of his success stories.”
Petersen now faces eleven charges filed by the Utah Attorney General’s Office and charges in Arkansas and Arizona. He was accused of what one client couple referred to in charging documents as something similar to a “baby mill,” where pregnant women from the Marshall Islands would skirt the countries' immigration laws, which do not allow women to come into the U.S. to give birth for the purpose of giving up their children for adoption.
Charging documents stated Petersen would charge couples as much as $41,000 for the adoptions. The Marshallese women would go home with $10,000, which in their home country is enough to support them for many years. Prosecutors said Petersen brought more than 40 women into Utah between December 2016 and September 2018, with sometimes more than a dozen at a time staying in a home owned by Petersen in West Valley City.
The Lundquists said something didn’t feel right with their adoption, particularly after the mother gave birth. They said the mother seemed confused and concerned in the hospital, and because they were working with a translator hired by Petersen’s agency, they couldn’t get a clear answer as to what was going on.
“The whole time I was like, I don’t know that she wants to give the baby up,” Dallas Lundquist said.
The Lundquists said as they asked questions, Petersen pressured them, saying he could easily place the child elsewhere.
It wasn’t until after the Lundquists arrived home with the baby girl that they said they learned of the biological mother’s concerns.
“We got the call from our attorney that she was not going to sign the papers, and that she wanted to have the baby back,” Angie said. “We had to drive to Salt Lake, and leave the baby with the outfit that we bought her, and the blanket that we bought her, and the car seat that we had for her, as well as all the emotional baggage that goes along with that.”
They left the baby with their attorney, to be returned to the mother.
“I set the baby down, and I just fell into his arms, sobbing,” Angie said. “Like he was the only thing keeping me from falling on the floor because I was so devastated.”
The Lundquists said through their attorney that they were eventually able to get most of their money back, though they’ve heard from others in their situation who were not as fortunate.
“That’s why I’m grateful that not only adoptive families on our side, but the birth families, the birth moms will not have to go through this anymore, at least with him,” Angie Lundquist said.