(MORRIS COUNTY, N.J) — A U.S. Army major and his wife are facing federal child-abuse charges for cruelty to their six children, three of whom were adopted. The alleged acts of cruelty include breaking their bones, denying them medical attention, withholding water and force-feeding them hot sauce, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said Wednesday.
John E. Jackson, 37, and Carolyn Jackson, 35, worked at the Picatinny Arsenal Installation in Morris County, N.J. Because the alleged crimes occurred on a military base, they will be tried in a federal court.
The Jacksons are charged in a 17-count indictment with one count 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,” Fishman said in a statement. “The crimes alleged should not happen to any child, anywhere, and it is deeply disturbing that they would happen on a military installation. Along with the FBI, we will continue to seek justice for our communities’ most vulnerable victims.”
The Picatinny Arsenal Installation did not return a request for comment.
The alleged abuse occurred from 2005 until 2010, when the Jacksons engaged in a “constant course” of neglect and cruelty to their three adopted children and told their three biological children not to report the physical assaults, saying the punishments were “training” the adopted children how to behave, according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges that the Jacksons withheld water from their children and assaulted them with objects, causing fractured bones. The report also says the parents caused the children to consume food meant for suffering, including red pepper flakes, hot sauce and raw onion. They also allegedly caused one child to ingest excessive sodium or sodium-laden substances while being deprived of water, leading to a life-threatening condition.
The defense teams for the parents did not return a request for comment.
The children are in the custody of the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency.
Several support websites and online groups for Carolyn and John Jackson have been developed since the abuse allegations first became known in 2010.
One website, ReuniteJackson7, maintains the Jacksons are innocent and asks for donations for legal fees. New Jersey attorney Grace Meyer’s address is listed on the website as the place to send in donations. When ABC News contacted Meyer, she said she doesn’t know who is behind the website. She added that she had not received any donations and was unaware that her name was on the website.
Meyer said she represented the family from 2010 through last year.
“I represented them for two years in court. I believe God is in control of this and I just know they’ll be exonerated,” Meyer said.
If the Jacksons are convicted, each faces a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison on each of the 17 counts. Each count also carries a maximum $250,000 fine.
Both are scheduled to appear in a U.S. District Court Thursday at 11 a.m. before Judge Mark Falk.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Stefania Okolie and Gabrielle Harmon, CNN
Brynn Gingras, CNN