Federal prosecutors unveiled charges Wednesday against a lawyer they said smuggled mothers into the U.S. in order to have them sign over their babies for adoptions to American families.
The scam brought pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to Arkansas, offering them $10,000 to make the trip and then give up their newborn babies for adoption, authorities said.
Prosecutors have charged Paul Petersen, an American lawyer, and Maki Takehisa, who they say was his recruiter for the women.
“Petersen caused adoption case files to be opened that were supported by documents containing fraudulent material false statements,” the Justice Department said.
Officials said the adoptive parents were unaware of the scam that brought their infants to them, but the birth mothers were in on the scheme, collecting large paychecks and lying about the purpose of their visit to deceive consular officers who approved the travel.
The U.S. has a compact with the Marshall Islands that allows for easy travel, but facilitating an adoption is not one of the valid reasons.
Charges in the indictment include alien smuggling, visa fraud, wire fraud mail fraud and conspiracy to launder money.
Investigators said they spoke with four mothers who were recruited for the scam.
In one, the woman said she was promised $10,000, but only paid $6,000.
She flew to the U.S. on April 21, 2014, and gave birth July 2, then placing her child for adoption. The adoption was finalized six days later, and she flew back to the Marshall Islands Aug. 10, 2014.
Another woman said she was paid $4,000 in cash on May 22, 2015 — the day her baby was born.
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