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Defense attorneys say Arizona man accused of selling children in Utah didn’t break the law

(Paul Petersen, left, with his attorney, Scott Williams. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – An Arizona man accused of smuggling people into the country and illegally selling children in several states makes an initial court appearance in Utah.

Paul Petersen’s defense team is going to be extremely busy with a court appearance in Arkansas in December and another in Arizona in January.  His preliminary hearing in Utah has been set to begin February 10, and it’s expected to last three days.

Prosecutors declined to speak about their case, but defense attorney Scott Williams says his client did nothing illegal.  He maintains that Petersen has been “making happy families.”

“These actions occurred with the stamp of a judge and with the stamp of a lot of administrative agencies,” Williams says.

Attorneys also deny any claims that Petersen hid his business practices from investigators, and that he had been in the adoption business for 15 years.

“He had done it with the consent of those that were involved, the request and the desire of those that were involved, and, frankly, the way it’s being treated right now, publicly, is stigmatizing those happy families,” Williams says, adding, “The reason prosecuting entities want to jump on it now is foreign to us.”

Williams was asked about accusations that Petersen had told mothers they had no choice but to give up their children.

He answered, “They’re false and the evidence will show they’re false.  What’s going to happen is that you’re going to see there is extreme support for Mr. Petersen in the Marshallese community.”

Petersen is facing 11 counts, total, including four counts of human smuggling, three counts of sale of a child, three counts communications fraud and one count of unlawful activity.