In the beginning of the story, there is a benevolent desire to – legally – adopt a newborn child. And in most cases, at the end of the story that desire has been fulfilled. A baby, delivered, as promised, by a mother from the Marshall Islands, has been given to an American family that really wants it.
The Bright Star agency of Mesa, Arizona, that has managed the adoption, looks good. It is run by a longtime professional facilitator of adoptions and a respected local attorney. And it delivers not just the baby, but papers that check every box, testifying to the legality of the adoption.
And not just legal, but the adoption has an aura that is churchly, as in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The agency, while in no way claiming association with the church, proclaims its roots in that prominent local lawyer, Paul Peterson’s Mormon mission to the Marshall Islands, and it serves a largely Mormon clientele.
Bright Star adoptions has thrived on word-of-mouth happy-ending stories from the Mormon community.
But it’s in the middle of the Bright Star adoptions story that things get messy.
I’m guessing that not even Stephen Miller or Donald Trump would want to declare the babies “illegal.” But prosecutors across three states say just about everything about the Bright Star adoption operation was. Illegal, and inhumane. Peterson is facing dozens of criminal indictments in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas, and one of the top leaders of the Mormon church has called the Peterson story “sickening,” while noting the Church was in no way involved.
The 62 indictment counts lodged against him in three states paint the outwardly pious and politically successful Peterson as a human trafficker of babies in utero, who treated his dozens of mothers much the way traditional traffickers treat sex workers, leaving them 15 to a house, some of them sleeping on floors. And the prosecutors charge he consistently and fraudulently stuck the public with all the medical bills his birthing assembly line incurred.
Robert Anglen investigates consumer issues for The Arizona Republic, where he has worked since 2003. From 2011-2015, Anglen co-led Call 12 for Action at 12 News as part of a joint broadcast and publishing project. In 2014, Call 12 for Action recovered more than $2 million for consumers, something no television station in the country had achieved. His award-winning investigations have exposed fraud, crime and corruption. He has written about the Mafia and the federal Witness Protection Program, abuses within the probate court system and questionable charities tied to a worldwide televangelism ministry. He was named reporter-of-the year in 2005 by the Arizona Press Club for stories linking Taser stun guns to deaths across the country. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was only blocks away from the World Trade Center collapse and wrote first-person accounts from Ground Zero.