Ex-official changing plea in Arkansas human trafficking case

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A former Arizona official accused of running an illegal adoption scheme in three states involving women from the Marshall Islands is changing his plea in Arkansas.

A federal judge on Tuesday set a change-of-plea hearing for Paul Petersen, a Republican who served as Maricopa County’s assessor for six years until his resignation in January.

Petersen last week pleaded guilty to human smuggling and fraud charges in Arizona and Utah.

He is accused of illegally paying women from the Pacific island nation to come to the United States to give up their babies in at least 70 adoption cases in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas over three years. Citizens of the Marshall Islands have been prohibited from traveling to the U.S. for adoption purposes since 2003.

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Petersen was indicted in Arkansas last year on multiple fraud and smuggling charges. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in October.

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