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Adoption Fraud: What We Can Learn from the Paul Peterson Case

A recent high-profile case is making waves in Arizona - Paul Peterson was sentenced to five years in state prison for forgery and an illegal adoption scheme. His sentence will be served on top of a 74-month sentence in federal prison. The Peterson case is wide-reaching and horrifying on many levels, but it serves as an example of the complexities of fraud cases. Let’s take a closer look.

Fraudulent Families

Peterson’s actions not only affect families in Arizona, but he is also responsible for trafficking women from the Republic of the Marshall Islands into the United States. He smuggled Marshallese mothers into the U.S. and used his experience with the court to falsely verify adoptions and allegedly scam hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state into his pocket.

Many of the families who adopted children through Peterson are horrified to be involved in the scheme. Not only were they possible victims of fraud, they feel that Peterson’s actions forever taint their adoptions.

Peterson’s supporters feel that the charges are outrageous, and they have little sympathy for the families caught in the middle. Peterson offered a teary testimony, taking responsibility for his actions and promising to change his behavior in the future.

Whether you side with Peterson or the adoptive parents and Marshallese women, it’s undeniable that this case not only crosses state lines but national borders. Arizona, Utah, and the Federal government have a vested interest in the Peterson case, making his sentence much more severe. It’s unclear where he will end up, but it is reasonable to assume that he faces a long road ahead.

How Fraud Charges Work

Fraud is often trickier than other criminal charges – DNA evidence doesn’t play a significant role (if any), there might not be many witnesses, and the paper trail can take years to follow. Plus, it’s important to keep in mind that when a crime crosses borders of any kind, the chances of getting out scot-free are slim to none.

Most states don’t have laws targeted at adoption fraud, but they make due by charging the defendant with theft by deception instead. Arizona law states that anyone who:

“…knowingly takes control, title, use or management of an incapacitated or vulnerable adult’s assets […] while acting in a position of trust and confidence…” is guilty of fraud.

The judge claims that Peterson “made false representations” to get adoptions certified and avoid the courts as much as possible. This would put Peterson squarely in fraud territory, which can result in a lengthy prison sentence.

According to the case, Peterson allegedly scammed the state of Arizona out of over $800,000 to fund the transport of women from the Marshall Islands. This amount is well above the minimum for a Class 2 Felony with a maximum sentence of 35 years.

Anytime a crime crosses state lines, the federal government gets involved. When this happens, finding a qualified legal representative can become difficult. After all, only an attorney with admission to practice in federal courts can defend you in a federal case.

Key Takeaways

So what can we get from this case? Fraud cases are incredibly complex, and when the alleged crime spans across state lines, the Federal government must get involved. Not only that but not all attorneys are qualified to handle federal cases. That’s why, if you have been accused of theft or any interstate crime for that matter, you must contact the right legal representative.

Contact Territorial Law to learn more.

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