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SALT LAKE CITY — A judge substantially reduced the bail Friday for an Arizona elected official accused of running an illegal adoption scheme in three states and smuggling at least 40 pregnant women to Utah from the Marshall Islands.
Paul D. Petersen, 44, is being held in a federal custody in Arizona as he awaits his first court date in Arkansas, where he faces federal charges of human smuggling, fraud and money laundering.
Third District Judge Linda Jones cut Petersen’s bail in Utah from $3 million to $150,000 bond only after defense attorneys and prosecutors agreed on the amount. She also placed conditions on Petersen, including having no involvement with adoptions and surrendering his passport, should he be released from federal custody.
Petersen’s Utah attorney, Scott Williams, said he asked for the hearing because the federal court will not hold a detention hearing in the case until the bail issue in Utah is resolved.
Jones said if the paperwork for Petersen’s bail isn’t “buttoned up” by next Wednesday, she would issue a new arrest warrant and reimpose the $3 million bail. The judge initially settled on that figure based on $2.7 million that allegedly went to a bank account for adoption fees over roughly two years.
Williams earlier said the number doesn’t reflect actual profits. He argued that Petersen is not a flight risk and said the public outcry has been overblown.
Petersen, the Maricopa County assessor, posted a $500,000 cash bail in Arizona three days after his Oct. 8 arrest. He was then placed into federal custody.
The state alleges Petersen and his associates recruited, transported and offered pregnant women in the Marshall Islands $10,000 to place their babies for adoption in Utah over the past three years.
He is charged in Utah with 11 felonies, including human smuggling, sale of a child, communications fraud and pattern of unlawful activity. In Arizona, prosecutors say he illegally obtaining services from the state’s Medicaid system for the women.
The Utah Attorney General Office set up a tip line after arresting Petersen. Special agent Tina Minchey took calls from families and victims, according to court documents.
“Multiple sources reported to me that Marshallese birth mothers brought to Utah by the defendant do not have cellphones, money or transportation, and were frightened and nervous after the charges against the defendant went public,” Minchey wrote.
Petersen and his associates took the women’s passports and documents to increase control over them, according to Minchey. Petersen was in the process of bringing six more pregnant Marshallese women to Utah when he was arrested, the documents say.
Andrew McAdams, an attorney who represented Petersen for a short time after his arrest, called Minchey’s affidavit “illegal” and asked the judge to strike it from the record as hearsay, according to court documents. He wrote that it appears to be “intentionally designed to smear Mr. Petersen and is a continuation of the state’s strategy to release unsupported and factually inaccurate information.”
Minchey’s affidavit did not provide new witness names, information or allegations and is more appropriate for a police report than a sworn court document, McAdams wrote.