PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Arizona’s Family is learning more about what happened to the Marshallese women after they gave birth and were flown back to the island by Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen.
[RAW VIDEO: Maricopa County Assessor Petersen makes initial court appearance after indictment]
Jessalyn Speight, who runs the nonprofit “Tied at the Heart” in Utah, surrendered a child to adoption over a decade ago and started the nonprofit for other moms going through the same emotional process.
[WATCH: Maricopa County assessor indicted in adoption fraud scheme]
But that’s when she said for years, she started receiving countless messages from Marshallese women who were used by Petersen, and desperately searching for help after they were essentially kicked to the curb.
The emails and Facebook messages were panicked, desperate and emotional.
“They’re just being left with no mental health care or postpartum care, or telling them what to do when their milk comes in,” Speight said.
[WATCH: Head of Utah nonprofit says she received ‘countless’ messages from women used by Paul Petersen]
Speight said it started with one woman’s message from across the country.
“The first one who contacted me, she was in Arkansas,” Speight said.
[WATCH: Neighbors ‘shocked’ by DPS raid of County assessor’s law office]
She said nearly 30 other Marshallese women who claimed Petersen had flown them in, housed them, then sent them back to the island after they gave birth, reached out to her for mental help.
Speight said the women told her Petersen tried to shame them.
“How are you going to give your baby this life? You’re living in poverty; how could you possibly think that your baby could survive like that? Don’t you want your baby to have a better life than you?” she said the women would tell her.
[PHOTOS: DPS raids Maricopa County Assessor Paul D. Petersen’s Mesa home, office]
She said Petersen’s promises followed a common financial theme.
“Three in particular said things like, they were told their baby was going to go to a nice family in America and be raised in a wealthy family and they would be able to come back when they were adults and help them,” she said.
Speight said Petersen preyed on these women who didn’t understand the reality of how they were being used.
“The fact that he did this to exploit people who didn’t speak English very well, didn’t understand these adoption practices, and then leave them to deal with their grief without any help, is disgusting,” she said.
Speight said she received these messages and emails from 2012 all the way until 2018 and is thankful Petersen has finally been caught.
“The largest population of Marshallese people in the world outside the Marshall Islands lives right here in Arkansas,” Bryant said.
Melisa Laelan is one of the founders of the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese and says it’s possible many of these women didn’t understand that they were signing away their parental rights forever.
“When you talk about property, all the way down to the children– your own children– they’re being shared among family members,” Laelan said.
Laelan said that in the Marshallese culture, it’s very common for other family members to be caregivers. After working in the court system there, she said she witnessed many birth mothers who did not understand what agreement they were entering.
“They’re being lied to that the kind of adoptions that they’re entering into are open adoptions,” Laelan said.