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Indicted Maricopa County assessor resigns, awaits criminal trials in adoption fraud scheme


JESSICA BOEHM   | Arizona Republic

Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen, who faces dozens of felony charges in three states, resigned from his county job Tuesday. 

Petersen's resignation comes after months of him pledging that he would not resign.

In a statement, Petersen said he is an "innocent man, but the media and the Board of Supervisors have presumed my guilt rather than my innocence in this matter."

He said he decided to resign and turn his focus to defending himself against the criminal allegations in the courtroom "where rules and the Constitution still matter."

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors suspended Petersen in October after he was arrested on charges related to his private sector job as an adoption attorney. 

The Board of Supervisors is the central governing body for the county, but it typically cannot remove other elected officials, such as Petersen, from office.

However, state law does give the board authority to suspend the assessor for up to 120 days for "neglect of duty." The supervisors said they believed Petersen's absence from office while incarcerated for nearly three weeks in October qualified as neglect of duty.

Petersen appealed his suspension, arguing that the assessor's office ran properly while he was in custody and alleging that the real reason the supervisors suspended him was because of his criminal charges, which have not been proven in a court of law. 

During the appeal process, the supervisors ordered an investigation of Petersen's work performance. The report uncovered thousands of adoption-related documents on Petersen's county laptop, including messages between Petersen and birth mothers. 

The supervisors voted to uphold Petersen's suspension on Dec. 27.  

Petersen's attorneys initially pledged to challenge his suspension in Maricopa County Superior Court, but later backed off. 

In his statement, Petersen said he fought his suspension because he never "neglected my duties" as the assessor. 

"Anyone can second guess the hours I spent at the downtown office, or whether the position should be appointed rather than elected, but I performed my statutory duties with honesty and the support and loyalty of an entire office," he said. 

Petersen faces felony charges in Arizona, Arkansas and Utah. In Arizona, he is accused of illegally arranging for 28 pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to fly to Arizona, to live in a house he owned and for a doctor to deliver their babies — paid for by the state's Medicaid system — before placing them for adoption. 

Petersen has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He was released from custody after posting bail in late October.

Reach the reporter at jessica.boehm@gannett.com or 480-694-1823. Follow her on Twitter @jboehm_NEWS

2020 Jan 7