SALISBURY, N.C. -- Prosecutors now have the key bargaining tool of leverage, which could potentially help in the search for Erica Parsons now that her adoptive parents face decades in prison and massive fines following their arrest on federal fraud charges.

Prosecutors call Casey and Sandy Parsons schemers, liars and lawbreakers, all of which is spelled out in the 76 different charges.

Allegations include getting money and benefits like Medicaid, Food Stamps and more than $12,000 in adoption assistance for Erica while claiming they cared for her even though they hadn't seen her in two years and she didn't live at the family home in Salisbury.

"Now they have bargaining chips, now they have tools to play with," said Erica's biological mother Carolyn Parsons.

Prosecutors refer to it as "substantial assistance", where they can whittle maximum sentences and fines down to less than mandatory minimums as long as they get significant help from Casey or Sandy.

That could include trying to turn them against each other in the search for Erica, for which they have not been arrested or charged.

It's a tactic investigators already used, but until now, without the threat of prison.

"It doesn't seem as if there's been any changes except trying to get Casey and Sandy to change their stories," said Parsons family attorney Carlyle Sherrill a day before the arrests.

He is not representing them in the fraud charges.

"If there was a charge regarding Erica's disappearance, then it's more likely than not that they would have had some charges," Sherrill said.

Carolyn Parsons says Casey and Sandy Parsons must know more than they're telling about Erica's whereabouts.

"They're the last two people who saw her, they had custody of her when she went missing," said Carolyn.

Now there's a lot more weight behind playing good cop/bad cop, and deal or no deal.

"They thought they were never going to face charges on anything and I'm glad to see, glad to know the steps, the ball is now rolling," Carolyn said.

The Parsons maintain their innocence when it comes to Erica's disappearance.

The Rowan County Sheriff's Office is following up on recent leads and say they're making progress.

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