Prosecutors in Colorado charged the adoptive parents of two missing brothers with theft, forgery and other crimes Thursday as authorities searched for the children, who disappeared in 2003 without anyone reporting they were gone.
Edward Bryant, 58, and Linda Bryant, 54, are accused of collecting nearly $175,000 in government payments for the care of the boys, even though the children haven't been in their household for years.
They entered no pleas to the charges in their first court appearance Thursday. They both wore orange jail jumpsuits and their hands were cuffed behind them.
Authorities didn't learn that Austin Eugene Bryant and his biological brother, Edward Dylan Bryant, had disappeared until this year. El Paso County, Colo., sheriff's investigators say the Bryants told them the boys had run away by 2003, when Austin would have been 7 and Edward 11. The Bryants have not been charged in the boys' disappearance.
The Bryants adopted the boys in 2000. The couple later moved to Texas, where they were arrested and returned to Colorado last month.
Thursday's hearing was largely procedural. The attorney for Edward Bryant, Sheilagh McAteer, indicated she would ask for a reduction in his $1 million bail at a preliminary hearing scheduled for June 17.
Linda Bryant is also being held on $1 million bail. Philip Dubois, the attorney representing her Thursday, didn't indicate whether a bail reduction would be sought. Her preliminary hearing was scheduled for April 12.
McAteer didn't immediately return a phone call after the hearing. Dubois said he was filling in for another attorney, Sarah Christensen, and referred calls to her. She didn't immediately return a message.
Edward Bryant faces 13 counts of theft, forgery, false documents and attempting to influence a public servant. Linda Bryant faces 148 counts of the same charges. A prosecutors' spokeswoman says the difference is in how many false claims for payment each is alleged to have made.
Edward Bryant could face a sentence of up to 84 years in prison Linda Bryant up to 624 years, if each were convicted of all counts and sentenced to serve each term consecutively, an unlikely prospect.
Edward and Linda Bryant were ushered in separately through a back door in the courtroom. Linda Bryant spoke quietly with her attorney. Edward Bryant nodded in response to a question from the judge, but neither spoke audibly during the hearing.
Investigators have conducted at least one search at the Bryants' former home northwest of Colorado Springs and are following up tips from a hot line and other leads, Sheriff's Lt. Lari Sevene said.
An arrest warrant affidavit made public last week includes allegations from an adoptive brother and an acquaintance of the missing boys that Austin was denied food, spanked, forced to run up and down stairs and rolled up tightly in blankets as punishment.
Austin often grew so hungry that he scavenged food from a garbage can, an arrest warrant affidavit quotes the adoptive brother as saying.
Linda Bryant told investigators she did not kill the boys, the arrest warrant affidavit said. She denied most of the abuse allegations but acknowledged forcing the boys to exercise and withholding food, which she described as "delaying food," the affidavit said.
The affidavit makes no mention of any comment from the elder Edward Bryant about the abuse allegations. It says he denied signing any documents to get payments for the two boys and denied any knowledge of getting government money to help with their care.