By Robert Anglen | Arizona Republic
The staff at Mercy Gilbert Medical Center suspected the pregnant women were in trouble.
They came in days apart, three in three weeks. None spoke English. Each woman came from the same remote island chain in the South Pacific. Each had applied for state welfare benefits to pay for the birth. And each planned on giving up her baby for adoption.
The three women listed the same home address on intake paperwork. The same woman had brought them to the hospital. She was listed on individual forms as their caretaker and translator. She also served as the expectant mothers’ notary on legal documents.
A hospital social worker in April 2019 called a Homeland Security “human trafficking” hotline.
The social worker was right to be suspicious. Authorities said the birth mothers were part of an illegal international adoption scheme orchestrated by Mesa lawyer Paul Petersen.
Petersen is facing charges in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas on allegations that he illegally transported pregnant women from the Republic of the Marshall Islands to the U.S. He also is accused of fraudulently enrolling them for Medicaid benefits and arranging adoptions of their children to American families for up to $40,000 each.