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Maricopa County has had its share of controversial or criminal county officials over the years. Perhaps it is due to the nature of county government in Arizona, which has many people elected to positions. The latest example is Paul Petersen, the county assessor who won two elections but also ran an allegedly illegal adoption operation on the side.

Petersen is entitled to his day in court, but facing dozens of state and federal felony charges in three states, he will likely have many such days. The surprising thing is that this went on so long.

Petersen became familiar with the Marshall Islands years ago on a church mission. His scheme had the advantage that residents of the Pacific island nation, which has a defense arrangement with the United States, are allowed to come to America. They cannot, however, legally enter for the purpose of adoption.

The assessor is an attorney who specialized in adoption. Going beyond that, he made it a multimillion-dollar business. Utah and Arizona authorities say dozens of Marshallese women gave birth in the two states, and apparently the children were adopted by families who paid a good price to the company. Court records show that price was $25,000 to $41,000, according to The Arizona Republic.

One of the disturbing accusations in the case is that hundreds of thousands of dollars in state medical care was involved in Arizona because of fraudulent residency claims. As calls are heard constantly for expansion of government in health care, the fraud factor that persists there is often overlooked.

Ironically, a Maricopa County judge tried to block one of the adoptions in 2006, calling its nature questionable. However, Petersen was able to get that decision reversed on appeal.

As the case unfolds, authorities say the adoptions are not likely to be undone. That is important, because children and families should not have their lives disrupted. However, we have to wonder: How did this situation continue for so many years?

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