Arizona politician's alleged adoption aide pleads guilty

File - In this Nov. 15, 2019, file photo, Paul Petersen, an Arizona elected official accused of running a multi-state adoption scheme, leaves court following an initial appearance on charges filed in the state in Salt Lake City. A woman accused of aiding a politician in metro Phoenix in what authorities say was an illegal adoption scheme involving women from the Marshall Islands has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and theft charges. Lynwood Jennet admitted in court Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, that she helped arrange benefits from Arizona's Medicaid program for expecting mothers who did not reside in the state. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

PHOENIX, AZ – A woman accused of helping a metro Phoenix politician in what authorities have called an illegal adoption scheme involving women from the Marshall Islands pleaded guilty Thursday to helping arrange benefits from Arizona's Medicaid program for expecting mothers even though the women didn't live in the state.

Lynwood Jennet, 46, assisted the birth mothers in applying for the health benefits at the direction of Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen, who also works as an adoption attorney, authorities said.

Officials have said 28 Marshallese women gave birth in the Phoenix area as part of the scheme, costing Arizona $800,000 in health care expenses, and that their children were put up for adoption through Petersen.

Jennet also was accused of serving as a point of contact for people in the Marshall Islands who looked for pregnant women interested in coming to the United States to give up their children for adoption.

Jennet's plea deal to charges of fraud and conspiracy calls for two to four years in prison and the repayment of the $800,000, though the repayment could be shared with Petersen if he's eventually convicted on similar charges. Prosecutors and defense attorneys declined to say whether Jennet will testify against Petersen.

Peterson, a Republican, has denied the charges and is fighting to keep his political post leading the agency that determines property values in Maricopa County, Arizona's most populous.

Investigators have said Jennet relayed information about birth mothers to Petersen, who bought the women passports and plane tickets to Phoenix.

Petersen faces criminal charges in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas as part of the alleged scheme involving 70 adoption cases.