An Arizona assessor is facing numerous criminal charges in three states for his alleged role in smuggling pregnant women from the Marshall Islands and giving their babies up for adoption. Prosecutors say that he offered the women up to $10,000 to come to the U.S. until they had their babies.
The investigation into the assessor began in 2017 when a hospital in Utah reported an influx of Marshallese women giving birth, often accompanied by the same woman. He was arrested in Arizona and is facing charges of human smuggling, sale of a child, fraud, forgery, and conspiracy to commit money laundering in that state, as well as Utah and Arkansas.
Investigators say that in Arkansas, dozens of pregnant Marshallese women would be living in the same house. Eight women were living in his homes outside of Phoenix, and several others were at his property in Utah.
The prosecution alleges that the assessor would recruit women several months or days before they were due, pay for their travel to the U.S., and then arrange adoptions with American couples. They claim he charged couples $25,000 to $35,000 per adoption, and over the course of 2 years had made about $3 million from the business.
Alleged Unlawful Adoptions
The assessor is an adoption lawyer licensed in Arizona, Arkansas, and Utah. He had previously been accused of unlawfully arranging adoptions. In that case, a judge said that he was violating Marshallese laws by bringing women to America to give up their babies. An appeals court overturned that decision, saying approval from the Marshall Islands wasn’t necessary for an adoption to take place.
The prosecutor in the present case alleges that the assessor chose the Marshall Islands to recruit women from because he had spent two years there on a church mission. He is also fluent in their language.
Criminal Charges Faced
Although Marshall Island nationals can work in the U.S. without visas, they must have one if they come to the country for adoptions. The prosecution alleges that without getting proper documents for the women, the assessor unlawfully smuggled them over here.
According to ARS § 13.2319, a person commits the offense of human smuggling when:
- They arrange or facilitate transportation for a person who is not a U.S. citizen, permanent alien, or lawfully allowed to be in the state; and
- Do so with the intent to earn a profit or for commercial purposes
Human smuggling is a class 4 felony unless the person transported was under 18 years of age. Then it is a class 2 felony. If the individual used or threatened to use violence against the other person to get them to comply, the offense becomes a class 3 felony. A conviction could result in years of prison. For instance, the maximum incarceration term for a class 2 felony is 10 years.
In Arizona, the assessor is also charged with fraud for getting medical care for the Marshallese women by falsely claiming they were citizens.
Board Seeks Suspension of Assessor
After his arrest, the assessor refused to give up his position. Now the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is seeking to have him suspended for “neglect of duty.” They claim that because he is in prison, he is unable to carry out his required functions.
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