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FAYETTEVILLE – An adoption attorney from Arizona with a license to practice law in Arkansas and several other states was arrested on federal charges, an announcement today said.
United States Attorney Duane (DAK) Kees for the Western District of Arkansas; Assistant Special Agent in Charge Andrew Parker of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS); Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch of the FBI; and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced today that Paul Petersen was arrested on federal charges.
A federal grand jury in the Western District of Arkansas indicted Petersen on one count of Conspiracy to Smuggle Illegal Aliens for Commercial Advantage and Private Financial Gain, four counts of Aiding and Abetting in Alien Smuggling for Commercial Advantage and Private Financial Gain, seven counts of Wire Fraud, five counts of Mail Fraud, one count of Conspiracy to Commit Visa Fraud, and one count of Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering.
According to the Indictment, Petersen is a licensed attorney who practices law in Arizona, Utah, and Arkansas.
Beginning in 2014, Petersen devised a scheme to defraud and obtain money and property from unknowing adoptive parents and others, a press release said. He paid pregnant Marshallese women large sums of United States currency to induce them to travel to the Western District of Arkansas and to put their babies up for adoption in the Western District of Arkansas. He purchased airline tickets for them and caused them to conceal their true travel purpose from the authorities in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) and the United States.
In furtherance of this scheme, Petersen caused adoption case files to be opened that were supported by documents containing fraudulent material false statements. He caused these court documents to be filed in the Circuit Clerk’s Offices in Washington and Polk counties and further caused case documents to be sent through the U.S. mail to government offices in Little Rock, Arkansas. Petersen is alleged to have intentionally concealed his involvement in the payments and conducted wire transactions to transfer more than one million dollars into a bank account.
The indictment charges that Petersen, for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain, encouraged and induced three RMI citizens to come to, enter, and reside in the United States when he knew it to be in violation of the law. Petersen conspired to cause them to make false claims to government officials and further conspired to transport and move them within the United States. The indictment also charges that Petersen conducted wire communications in furtherance of his scheme to defraud and conspired to conduct financial transactions involving the proceeds of the aforementioned unlawful activities.
The DSS and the FBI are conducting the investigation, and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Fowlkes is prosecuting the case. The Office of International Affairs of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division also assisted in the investigation.
An indictment is merely an accusation. An arrest warrant represents a finding of probable cause. A person is presumed innocent unless or until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
NOTE: A copy of the indictment can be found here.