ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. - Sandy and Casey Parsons -- the adoptive parents of missing teen Erica Parsons -- were arrested Wednesday morning on a federal criminal indictment charging them with fraud, according to Ripley Rand, United States Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina.
The Parsons' attorney said federal agents burst into their home early Wednesday morning, according to the Parsons' daughter.
The 76-count criminal indictment was unsealed Wednesday following the couple’s arrest by FBI and IRS-CI agents in Fayetteville.
TIMELINE: Erica Parsons case
The indictment alleges that, from February 2010 to August 2013, Sandy Parsons, 40, and Casey Parsons, 39, committed tax fraud, mail fraud, theft of government funds, and identity theft, and engaged in a conspiracy to defraud the government.
The Parsons' attorney said he was not surprised by the "white collar" charges. He said they would be represented by a federal public defender.
Casey and Sandy Parsons were released Wednesday. They must report to a probation office Thursday for electronic monitors.
The indictment alleges that the Parsons received government funded adoption assistance, Medicaid, Social Security, and Food and Nutrition Services benefits for a dependent that did not live with them and used the mail to commit the fraud. The indictment also alleges that Casey Parsons fraudulently used the identities of other persons as dependents and used other false information when preparing federal tax returns.
READ: Full indictiment against Erica Parsons' adoptive parents
Sandy and Casey Parsons were charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the government, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; twenty counts of theft of government funds, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; and 20 counts of mail fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The indictment also charges Sandy Parsons with one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years, consecutive to any other sentence, and a $250,000 fine; and one count of false statement to a government agency, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
SPECIAL SECTION: Erica Parsons case
Casey Parsons is also charged with one count of false pretense in a health care matter, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; two counts of Social Security fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; fifteen counts of aggravated identity theft, each of which carries a mandatory sentence of two years, consecutive to any other sentence, and a $250,000 fine; two counts of false statement to a government agency, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; six counts of aiding in the preparation of a false tax return, each of which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine; six counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; and one count of making false claim against the government, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
In total, the Parsons face 76 counts.
The case was investigated by the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations.
According to the FBI, the Parsons’ home in Fayetteville was searched Wednesday morning after Casey and Sandy were taken into custody. In fraud or financial criminal investigations it is common law enforcement practice to conduct searches for further evidence of criminal activity.
The Parsons' arrest comes one year after Erica was reported missing by a son of her adoptive parents. Erica was last seen in November 2011.
Casey and Sandy Parsons have said they have nothing to do with the girl's disappearance and that she is living with her biological grandmother in Asheville.
Police and the girl's biological mother say that woman does not exist.
Prevent Child Abuse Rowan, a local advocacy group, has put forth $5,000 to be added to the outstanding award for Erica’s return, and the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office is also adding an additional $10,000, to add to the original $10,000 that the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office had already put forth.
With these award additions, the total award for information leading to the location of Erica now stands at $50,000. The amounts offered are $25,000 from FBI, $20,000 from the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, $5000 from Prevent Child Abuse Rowan.
Eben Rawls knows about the pressure of indictments. He's represented clients in federal court for more than 30 years.
He federal laws give investigators a lot more leverage in cases like this, where they're likely to pit Sandy against Casey Parsons.
Rawls says the so-called marital privilege can keep spouses from testifying against each other in state court, but the same doesn't apply in federal court.
“There may be a deal or a bargain or immunity for one spouse and if so that spouse can testify and the defendant's spouse cannot block that testimony,” Rawls said.
Rawls also said the number of charges in that indictment -- some carrying mandatory consecutive sentences -- means the Parsons could essentially be looking at life sentences.
It would be plenty of pressure to strike some kind of deal with prosecutors who would want to know what happened to Erica Parsons and whose pitch could sound a lot like this: “Come in, talk to us, tell us the truth and you'll benefit from cooperation. Cooperation in federal court is a significant sentencing factor,” Rawls said.
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