By Jessica Boehm/Arizona Republic
Suspended Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen pleaded not guilty during his first Arizona court appearance Tuesday morning.
Petersen faces 32 felony charges in Maricopa County Superior Court related to allegations that he operated an illegal international adoption scheme.
Prosecutors say Petersen, in his private-sector career as an adoption attorney, illegally arranged for pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to fly to the U.S. to deliver their babies. They allege Petersen fraudulently registered the women for the state’s Medicaid system and then arranged the adoptions of their children for up to $40,000.
The charges he faces in Arizona relate to the alleged Medicaid fraud. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office alleges Petersen bilked the state’s low-cost health care system out of more than $800,000.
Petersen also faces federal fraud charges in Arkansas and human smuggling charges in Utah. He was arraigned in Arkansas last week and released on a $100,000 bond.
After his scheduled court appearance in Maricopa County Superior Court on Tuesday, he is expected to travel to Utah where he is to appear in court on Nov. 15.
His next court dates in Arizona and Arkansas are scheduled for December, but Petersen’s attorney Kurt Altman said those dates could shift.
Petersen would not speak to reporters following his court appearance.