FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — Several local Marshallese women, some on the brink of giving birth, are in crisis after an an elaborate multi-state illegal adoption scheme is busted.
Paul Petersen, an elected official and attorney, was indicted for adoption fraud in Arkansas, Arizona, and Utah.
He routinely practiced law in Arkansas.
In a press conference on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney of the Western District of Arkansas Dak Kees said that Petersen faces 19 felonies in the natural state, in addition to 11 felonies in Utah.
Rogers attorney Josh Bryant filed a lawsuit on Thursday (Oct. 10) against Petersen and his administrative point of contact, Megan Wolfe.
In it, he asks for all of Petersen’s cases to be overseen by one court and one judge.
The plaintiffs include 13 adoptive parents.
Bryant says he’s aware of at least 6 others families that have pending adoption plans with Petersen.
“There are a lot of frightened mothers out there who are expecting,” Bryant said. “We’ve heard from multiple sets of adoptive parents that they’ve paid $25,000 to $35,000, that they owe another $5,000 to $10,000. They mortgage their house, they have given every last cent they have to Mr. Petersen in pursuit of these adoptions.”
While all of the adoptive parents are from out-of-state, most of the birth mothers with adoption plans live in northwest Arkansas, Bryant said.
Andrea McCurdy, an attorney that represents birth mothers, says “a couple” of birth mothers went into labor on Thursday.
However, she points out that in these cases, the birth mothers and adoptive families have a relationship.
“We have both sides that are all in. Our main concern right now is that they both have legal representation to complete the adoption and verify that everything is valid in the adoption process,” McCurdy said.
This situation is what adoption attorney Justin Heimer calls a crisis.
“This has been happening for a long time. Mr. Petersen is not the only bad actor. I don’t even believe him to be the worst bad actor,” he said.
Bryant, Heimer, McCurdy and Michaela Montie are working together to make sure birth mothers and adoptive parents have a place to turn in northwest Arkansas.
Shared Beginnings is a non-profit adoption agency and birth mother support center.
“This is a very scary time for a lot of families. The adoptions that were going on through Mr. Petersen’s office office are all in jeopardy. The safest place for any of these folks to go is to Shared Beginnings right now. That is the only place I trust to send someone who is in a Marshallese adoption right now,” Heimer said.
A hearing will be held on Friday.
Bryant says he will be asking the judge to seal this case, and for the adoptive parents to continue anonymously.