A U.S. Army major and his wife were arrested and charged on Tuesday with child endangerment for physically abusing their three foster children, whom they later adopted, and forcing their three biological children to help cover up the abuse.
Federal prosecutors said the couple, Major John Jackson, 37, and his wife, Carolyn Jackson, 35, engaged in a conspiracy between August 2005 and April 2010, to abuse the three children they fostered and later adopted.
Authorities said the couple told their biological children not to report the incidents.
One of the three adopted children died in 2008, but it is not immediately clear how the death occurred.
The husband surrendered to authorities after his wife was arrested at their Mount Holly, New Jersey, home this morning. The couple previously were assigned to the Picatinny Arsenal Installation in Morris County, New Jersey.
Rubin Sinins, attorney for the defendants, was not immediately available for comment.
The couple appeared before Magistrate Judge Mark Falk on Tuesday in federal court in Newark. They are being held ahead of a Thursday bail hearing.
The parents were charged in a 17-count indictment, including one charge of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child, 13 counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and three counts of assault.
"Carolyn and John Jackson are charged with unimaginable cruelty to children they were trusted to protect," U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a statement. "The crimes alleged should not happen anywhere, and it is deeply disturbing that it would happen on a military installation."
They each face up to 10 years in prison on each of the 17 counts and up to $250,000 in fines on each count.
The indictment said the parents beat the children with various objects, breaking bones in two of the children, and neglected to seek prompt medical attention for the injuries.
Prosecutors said the parents did not supply the children with enough water, and forced two of the children to eat red pepper flakes, hot sauce and raw onion as punishment.
Authorities also said John Jackson told the biological children that the abuse was justified, that he was "training" the children how to behave.
According to the indictment, the couple misled U.S. Army officials, law enforcement and child protective officials in New Jersey, Oklahoma and Indiana.
All of the children are in the custody of the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency.