PHOENIX — The chaotic arrest of suspended Mariopa County Assessor Paul Petersen sadly left seven Marshallese women in desperate need of help.
Petersen has pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy, fraudulent schemes and artifices, forgery, theft, and fraudulent schemes and practices for his role in the accused smuggling of Marshallese mothers into the county and selling their babies for tens of thousands of dollars.
Six women were still pregnant at the time the scandal broke. Their resources were dwindling until a non-profit called Island Liaison stepped up in to help.
"They treat Petersen nicer than they treated these women," said Claudia Kaercher, founder of Island Liaison. Kaercher is still reeling from the fact that local law enforcement seemed to brag about the arrest but gave little attention to the victims left behind in Petersen's apartment.
Kaercher spent the last three months caring for the forgotten victims of Petersen's nationwide adoption scheme - working day and night to make sure they had to resources they needed.
"We set a goal to assess number one, their well being," said Kaercher who drove the women to countless doctors appointments.
Kaercher and a half dozen partner organizations raced to the Mesa apartment where the women were staying following Petersen's arrest October 8. Disgusted by the living conditions and lack of medical care, they knew they had to act quickly.
"They're prenatal care prior was not very clear so we had to start from scratch," said Kaercher who says the women were living in filth in an apartment infested with bugs.
A group of midwives drove the women to and from their pre-natal care. The Mountain Park Health Clinic provided the women with prenatal exams.
"Thank goodness for the midwives, I don't know what we would have done without them," said Kaercher.
But gaining the Marshallese mothers' trust would not be easy. "It took three days and we sat on the floor and we just talked to them," said Kaercher.
She says they appealed to their humanity in an attempt to restore their faith. That's when they began opening up. Telling her they were offered ten thousand dollars to give up their babies.
"When you come from the outer islands, what is ten thousand dollars?" asked ABC15. "A million," said Kaercher. "Life-changing?" "Oh very much so," said Kaercher.
She says all of them hoped to provide for their families back home. One of the women gave birth in September and met Petersen for the first time when he presented her with an adoption contract.
"Went to his home, sat there with a piece of paper, ten thousand on the top, minus rent, how many months you were here, minus doctor check, minus food, minus rent, minus birthing, minus, minus, minus, minus plane ticket, what was left, was three thousand dollars" said Kaercher.
The woman says Petersen had a take it or leave it attitude. She took it and immediately wired the money back home but remained in the state because her passport was seized during the raid of Petersen's homes and business.
"We were appalled, we were shocked," said Kaercher regarding how Petersen profited off of those from poverty. "I even got a call from an associate of Mr Petersen saying the women had to get out of the apartment because the electricity was being turned off, when I asked if they could provide somewhere else to stay, he said, without any concern, no."
Since then all the women have given birth and left the state to be with family. But the sting of what they saw and heard festers. It's something Kaercher says she'll never forget.
Petersen remains suspended from his position as County Assessor as he await trial in state and federal court.