PHOENIX (AP) — A co-defendant in a human smuggling operation told police that a prostitution camp in the Marshall Islands provided many of the pregnant women involved in former Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen's allegedly illegal adoption business.
Co-defendant Lynwood Jennet told police that majority of the women were from a prostitution camp where girls as young as 15 or 16 did sex work in exchange for food and housing, the Arizona Capitol Times reported.
Jennet is accused of serving as his fixer in the Marshall Islands, where she said she would contact Petersen every time she was alerted to a new pregnancy.
“Lynwood was asked who runs the camp, Lynwood said it was the government or businessmen,” said Department of Public Safety Detective Samuel Hunt, who interrogated Jennet following her arrest.
Months before news broke about Petersen’s multistate indictment, investigators built a tax and Medicaid fraud case against Jennet, who spoke of a relationship with Petersen in an interrogation room in Mesa, Arizona, authorities said.
Jennet pleaded guilty in December in Arizona and agreed to testify against Petersen.
Petersen is accused of illegally paying women from the small island country in the Pacific Ocean 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.
He is also charged with defrauding Arizona's Medicaid system by $800,000 by submitting false applications for the women to receive state-funded health coverage.
Petersen has pleaded not guilty to the charges in Arizona and Arkansas. He hasn't yet entered a plea in Utah.
Since the indictment in October, Petersen was suspended from his elected position and resigned in January.
Petersen's lawyer Kurt Altman told The Associated Press in an email Friday that any implication that Petersen knew of or was involved in a prostitution camp in the Marshall Islands is absurd and an attempt to sensationalize the allegations against Petersen and sully his reputation.