Maricopa County Board Of Supervisors Suspends Assessor Paul Petersen
The governing board in Arizona's most populous county has suspended an elected official accused of running a human smuggling scheme involving pregnant women from the Marshall Islands brought to the U.S. to give birth for adoptions.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Monday to suspend Assessor Paul Petersen without pay for up to 120 days. Petersen is in federal custody in Arkansas.
“He is not present here. He’s not been in the office,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates. “And although you can certainly delegate tasks, you cannot delegate responsibility.”
Board members lack the authority to permanently remove Petersen from his office that determines the value of properties for tax purposes in Phoenix and its suburbs.
Authorities say Petersen illegally paid women from the Marshall Islands to have their babies in the United States and give them up for adoption.
He's facing charges in Arizona, Arkansas and Utah including human smuggling, sale of a child, fraud, forgery and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Petersen is expected to plead not guilty at an arraignment on Tuesday. His attorney, Kurt Altman, said Petersen remains the county assessor and has been able to communicate with office employees while in custody.
Altman said his client is innocent of the criminal charges.
At Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Gates said an audit shows Petersen did private work with county property, including “the use of county computers for Mr. Petersen’s personal legal practice, including the adoption practice.”