PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Suspended Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning on charges related to an alleged adoption fraud scheme.
He made his court appearance during an arraignment just before 9 a.m. in the Maricopa County Superior Court.
Petersen is accused of running a human smuggling scheme involving pregnant women from the Marshall Islands who were brought to the U.S. to give birth for adoptions.
The women were crammed into homes owned or rented by Petersen, sometimes with little to no prenatal care, authorities have said in court documents.
The paperwork indicates Petersen has been involved in adoptions with Marshallese babies as far back as 2005.
Following the not guilty plea, Petersen's attorneys announced he was prepared to fight a two-front battle to keep his freedom and his elected office.
Attorney Kory Langhofer said the Assessor plans to appeal the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors' decision to suspend Petersen for 120 days.
"There is certainly a lawsuit in the making here. We'll first write a letter and try to resolve it amicably, and if we can't resolve it, we're going to court," Langhofer said.
The five-member County Board declined to comment, but they have shown no willingness to reverse course.
Petersen was appointed to the Assessor's Office in 2013. He won a special election the following year and was reelected in 2016.
Petersen faces dozens of charges in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas related to the alleged human smuggling operation.
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Petersen pleaded not guilty to his Arkansas charges that he helped run the illegal adoption scheme. He was then released from federal custody after posting a $100,000 bond.
The same week, Petersen was suspended by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in an unprecedented step. He will be suspended for the next four months and they appointed a replacement to run his elected office. Petersen has until Nov. 7 to appeal the suspension, but the chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors said last week that he doesn't see any reason to life the suspension.
Petersen was appointed to the position of county assessor in 2013, won a special election in 2014, and was re-elected in 2016. The county assessor is in charge of property valuation.