Maricopa County Assessor Paul D. Petersen indicted in adoption fraud scheme

PHOENIX – Last week, a State Grand Jury indicted Maricopa County Assessor Paul D. Petersen for his alleged involvement in an adoption fraud scheme involving pregnant Marshallese woman flown in Arizona to place their baby up for adoption. Petersen is accused of using false information to place the Marshallese women on state-funded healthcare in order to pay for delivery costs, bilking the state out of more than $814,000. The indictment is the result of a multi-state investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the Arkansas US Attorney’s Office, and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) Office of Inspector General.

According to the indictment, Petersen and co-defendant Lynwood Jennet purchased travel arrangements for pregnant Marshallese women to travel to Arizona for the sole purpose of placing their baby up for adoption. After the women gave birth and completed the adoption, Petersen allegedly purchased travel for the birth mothers to leave the State of Arizona. The women either moved to Arkansas or back to the Marshall Islands.

“Crimes spread by greed targeting the vulnerable is one of the many reasons HSI and our partners work incredibly hard to root those seeking to evade law enforcement detection,” said A. Scott Brown, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Phoenix. “This investigation spanned three states and the Marshall Islands, as we collaborated with multiple agencies in a case that confirms that no one is above the law.”

In 1983, the United States entered into a Compact of Free Association with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, which prohibits RMI citizens from entering the United States under the Compact if their travel is for the purpose of adoption. Petersen, through his adoption agency, is accused of utilizing this adoption fraud scheme in at least 29 births in Arizona between November 2015 and May 2019.

It is alleged that the Marshallese women were not residents of Arizona at the time their AHCCCS applications were submitted and therefore ineligible for state-funded medical benefits.  Petersen and Jennet are charged with directing these women to fraudulently misrepresent their residency status in order to obtain AHCCCS benefits.

Petersen and Jennet are facing 32 felony counts:

  • 28 counts of Fraudulent Schemes and Practices, Class 5 felonies
  • One Count of Conspiracy, a Class 2 felony
  • One Count of Fraudulent Schemes and Artifices, a Class 2 felony
  • One Count of Theft, a Class 2 felony
  • One count of Forgery, a Class 4 felony  

The families involved in the adoptions are not the focus of the Arizona investigation. Anyone with information or questions pertaining to adoptions involving children from the Marshall Islands is urged to call the Arizona Attorney General’s Office at 602-542-8888.

All defendants are presumed innocent until convicted in a court of law.

Assistant Attorneys General Evan Malady and Scott Blake are prosecuting this case.

Border Patrol Finds 32 People Locked Inside Semitrailer

TUCSON, Ariz. – U.S. Border Patrol agents at the Interstate 19 Immigration Checkpoint arrested two U.S. citizens for human smuggling after finding 32 illegal aliens hidden inside a semitrailer Monday night.

After a Border Patrol canine alerted to the vehicle, Tucson Sector agents referred the semi tractor-trailer for secondary inspection, where they discovered 32 Mexican and Ecuadorian nationals, all illegally present in the country, hidden in the produce cargo.

The trailer’s interior was 47 degrees, potentially endangering the illegal immigrants locked inside.

The 31-year-old driver and 30-year-old passenger were arrested and charged with felony human smuggling violations. The 32 illegal immigrants arrested, aged 16 to 53, processed for immigration violations.

In an effort to prevent fatalities at the hands of smugglers, Department of Homeland Security has launched “Operation Safeguard” to educate the public and the trucking industry on the life-threatening dangers involved in using commercial conveyances to smuggle humans. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials welcome assistance from the community. Individuals can report suspicious activity to the Border Patrol and remain anonymous by calling 1-877-872-7435 toll free. Reporting illicit activity could result in saving someone’s life. 

32 Illegal aliens found locked inside a semi-truck discovered by Border Patrol agents near Tucson.

Air and Marine Operations, Homeland Security Maritime Partners Make Dream Come True for South Florida Boy Battling Cancer

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Air and Marine Operations (AMO) teamed up with the U.S. Coast Guard and a network of local law enforcement and community partners in South Florida to make a dream come true for a 5-year-old boy battling an aggressive form of brain cancer.Air and Marine Operations joined community partners protecting our coastal borders to make a dream come true.

Giovanni wanted to spend a day on the water with the highly-trained professionals protecting our coastal borders. Air and Marine Operations West Palm Beach Marine Unit joined the U.S. Coast Guard and teams of local law enforcement personnel from across Palm Beach County to make the wish become a reality on Oct. 9

“We are a part of communities across the state of Florida and it is a privilege and an honor that Air and Marine Operations had an opportunity to participate alongside Homeland Security partners,” said Hector Rojas, Deputy Director, Marine Operations at the Miami Air and Marine Branch. “Boosting the spirits of this young boy with dozens of community partners is just another reminder that Air and Marine Operations is a federal law enforcement organization dedicated to serving and protecting the American people.”

Palm Beach County-based local, state and federal law enforcement teams cheered Giovanni on as the young boy climbed aboard for a joint patrol next to more than half a dozen vessels along the Intracoastal Waterway.Marine units cheered as the young boy climbed aboard a vessel for a joint patrol.

“The extraordinary courage and strength displayed by this boy facing brain cancer is something for us all to admire,” said Martin Wade, Director of the Miami Air and Marine Branch. “The spirit of service and the outpouring of support is a testament to the teams of teams that work together safeguarding the homeland every day.”

CBP Air and Marine Operations in Florida has also worked extensively with federal partners in recent weeks supporting wide-ranging Hurricane Dorian response efforts in the Bahamas.

CBP’s Air and Marine Operations (AMO) aircrews deployed to impacted areas in the Bahamas airlifting over 150 Bahamian and U.S. citizens to hospitals or local shelters in Nassau, Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian. Crews transported vital supplies during humanitarian flights and actively supported relief operations and assessments.

With approximately 1,800 federal agents and mission support personnel, 240 aircraft, and 300 marine vessels operating throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands, AMO conducts its mission in the air and maritime environments at and beyond the border, and within the nation’s interior.

AMO interdicts unlawful people and cargo approaching U.S. borders, investigates criminal networks and provides domain awareness in the air and maritime environments, and responds to contingencies and national taskings.

In Fiscal Year 2018, AMO enforcement actions resulted in the approximate seizure or disruption of 283,503 pounds of cocaine; 301,553 pounds of marijuana; 180,444 pounds of methamphetamine; 872 weapons and $34.2 million; 2,373 arrests and 47,744 apprehensions of illegal aliens.

Learn more about CBP Air and Marine Operations. Follow U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Florida at @CBPFlorida on Twitter. File footage is available through U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Public Affairs via the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS).

Border Patrol Agents Arrest Eight After Vehicle Pursuit

DEL RIO, Texas U.S. Border Patrol agents assigned to the Del Rio Sector were involved in a vehicle pursuit that resulted in the arrest of two Austin area residents, suspected of human smuggling, Oct. 15.

“Smugglers continue in their attempts to evade law enforcement officials,” said Del Rio Sector Chief Patrol Agent Raul L. Ortiz. “They have no regard for the safety of those being smuggled, law enforcement, or the traveling public.”

Agents assigned to the Eagle Pass Station attempted to perform a vehicle stop on a 2002 Dodge Ram on Farm to Market Road 1908 near Brackettville. The driver of the pickup truck failed to yield to agents and fled, turning north on to Farm to Market Road 131. The driver then pulled over to the side of the road, where six individuals jumped out and absconded into the brush. The driver then continued on FM 131 until agents were able to successfully disable the vehicle, using a controlled tire deflation device. Agents arrested the driver, a 25-year-old male from Del Valle, and passenger, a 27-year-old female from Austin, both U.S. citizens. Agents then apprehended six illegal aliens, where they had fled the vehicle. The six aliens are from Honduras and El Salvador, including one juvenile, age 14.

Throughout the holiday weekend, there were a total of eight failed smuggling attempts, resulting in the arrests of 18 smugglers and 41 illegal aliens.

All illegal aliens were processed in accordance with U.S. Customs and Border Protection guidelines. Individuals arrested while transporting illegal aliens face charges under 8 USC 1324, alien smuggling, and if convicted could receive up to 10 years in prison.

Border Patrol Agents Continue to Intercept Vehicles Smuggling Hard Narcotics

EAGLE PASS, Texas U.S. Border Patrol agents assigned to the Eagle Pass South Station seized approximately $614,000 in narcotics at the U.S. Highway 57 immigration checkpoint in three separate events over the past nine days.

All subjects, narcotics, and vehicles were turned over to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
All subjects, narcotics, and vehicles
were turned over to the DEA.

“Seizures of hard narcotics have increased dramatically this year, despite the deep concealment methods used by criminal networks to smuggle them,” said Del Rio Sector Chief Patrol Agent Raul L. Ortiz. “These type of drugs are among the most dangerous the nation has ever faced, but thanks to the tireless efforts of our agents and K-9 teams, a significant amount of them will not reach our communities.”

Last week, on Oct. 7, agents encountered a 2013 BMW, driven by a 31-year-old U.S. citizen from Dallas. The vehicle was referred for a more in-depth inspection, during which agents recovered more than $460,000 worth of concealed narcotics, including 11.4 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, 20.94 pounds of heroin, 2.2 pounds of cocaine and approximately 12.6 pounds of a narcotic cutting agent. An hour later another vehicle, a 2019 Nissan Versa, was also searched, resulting in the seizure of 14.33 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, valued at over $68,000. The driver is a Mexican national in possession of a B1/B2 visa.

On Oct. 11, agents encountered a U.S. citizen driving a black Ford F-150, which was referred for an extensive inspection. During the search, agents recovered several packages of narcotics concealed in the passenger compartment. The seizure yielded a total of 7.72 pounds of cocaine, valued at nearly $86,000.

Dollar amounts are approximations of the current street-value of the seized narcotics. All subjects, narcotics, and vehicles were turned over to the Drug Enforcement Agency for further investigation.

Border Patrol Arrests Three in Augusta, Maine

AUGUSTA, Maine- Border Patrol agents working in the Augusta area on October 10, arrested three men for various immigration related offenses. The men were encountered while Border Patrol agents attempted to assist a stranded motorist.

“Border Patrol agents in Maine are assigned to patrol our area of responsibility,” said Jason Owens, Chief Patrol Agent of the Border Patrol in Maine.  “As public servants, there is an expectation that our agents will look to help people in need and sometimes that leads to an enforcement action.”

One of the subjects, a 42 year old Chinese National, entered the United States in 2001 on a fiancée visa.  The man did not marry a United States citizen, as required by the visa conditions, and failed to depart the United States.  The Chinese man, with a previous arrest for domestic violence, was found to have violated his visa conditions and to be in the United States in violation of immigration law.

The second subject, a 22 year old male from Guatemala, admitted to entering the United States illegally near Laredo, Texas, in 2013.  The man had been ordered removed from the United States when he failed to appear before an immigration court in 2013.  The Guatemalan male had previously lived in North Carolina, Virginia, and New York and was previously arrests for public intoxication and trespassing.     

The third subject, a 25 year old male from Mexico, admitted to entering illegally through Arizona. He stated he had been living and working within the United States for several years and was recruited to work in the food service industry in Maine.

“The roads and highways of Maine are being used to facilitate illicit trade and travel.  Securing the border requires us to not only give attention to the immediate border areas, but also the routes and means of egress to the interior of the United States,” said Chief Jason Owens.  

The three men were transported to the Rangeley Border Patrol Station for processing and placed into removal proceedings.  All three men were then transferred to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). 

Under Title 8 of the U.S. Code, it is a federal crime to enter the United States illegally and to misrepresent a material fact while seeking admission to the United States.  While most of the people arrested by the United States Border Patrol in Maine are processed administratively, underlying criminal charges are frequently present.    

United States Border Patrol Agents in Maine rely on the cooperation and assistance of the public.  Anyone wishing to make a confidential report of suspicious activity may call (800) 851-8727 to contact the United States Border Patrol in Maine.  

CBP at Port Everglades Seizes Nearly Four Dozen Pounds of Cocaine Hidden Inside Boxes of Oranges

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – U.S. Customs and Protection (CBP) officers working at Port Everglades seized approximately 46.5 pounds of cocaine concealed within boxes of oranges arriving from the Dominican Republic over the weekend. The estimated street value of the drugs is hundreds of thousands of dollars.

CBP officers with the Anti-Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team (A-TCET) detected anomalies while examining a container. A CBP K-9 alerted to the presence of illegal drugs and CBP officers discovered a white, powdery substance within multiple boxes. CBP seized 46.5 pounds of cocaine.CBP seizes over 4650 pounds of drugs nationwide on a typical day.

The substance field-tested positive for cocaine and evidence has been turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

“We are extremely proud of CBP’s highly-trained and dedicated workforce continually adapting to respond to emerging threats and rapidly changing conditions,” said Acting Port Director Stephen Silvestri. “CBP teams work tirelessly to detect illicit trafficking of people, drugs, weapons and currency while facilitating legitimate trade and travel.”

CBP’s Office of Field Operations in Florida

CBP is the lead agency for preventing drug trafficking through airports, seaports, and land ports of entry and plays a significant role in the national drug control strategy. On a typical day in Fiscal Year 2018, CBP seized over 4,650 pounds of drugs. As a result of CBP’s all-threats mission, CBP officers frequently interdict drug-smuggling attempts and locate hidden contraband such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana.Over 46.5 pounds of cocaine seized at Port Everglades.

As America’s unified border agency, CBP plays a critical role in preventing illicit drugs from reaching communities in South Florida and across the country. CBP leverages targeting and intelligence-driven strategies—working in close coordination with a network of law enforcement partners as part of a multi-layered, risk-based approach to enhance the security of our borders.

CBP’s Office of Field Operations in Florida includes more than 2,700 front-line federal officers, agricultural specialists, trade and mission support personnel securing over 1,200 miles of the coastal border and providing international travel and trade facilitation. The Miami Field Office encompasses five ports that stretch over 313 miles of Florida coastline, within which there are five seaports, including the top two cruise ship ports in the world; and nine airports, with Miami International Airport (MIA) ranking as the second busiest international airport among U.S. airports.

The Tampa Field Office encompasses the Area Ports of Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville.  Both Field Offices also provide support to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Associate Chief Counsel, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the South Florida Federal Executive Board, and numerous other governmental agencies.

Download stock imagery from @CBPFlorida and general video footage from the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS). For breaking news and information updates from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, follow @CBPFlorida @CBPCaribbean @CBPSoutheast and @CBP on Twitter.