Federal child sexual exploitation charges filed against couple in Amish girls' kidnapping

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FILE - These file photos provided by the St. Lawrence County Sheriff's Office shows the booking photos of Stephen Howells II, left, and Nicole Vaisey, who were arraigned on Aug. 15, 2014 on charges they intended to physically harm or sexually abuse two Amish sisters after abducting them from a roadside farm stand. Federal prosecutors have now charged the couple accused of kidnapping and sexual exploitation of the children and possession of child pornography. Vaisey and Howells have already pleaded not guilty to state kidnapping charges. They are being held without bail. (AP Photo/St. Lawrence County Sheriff, File)


ALBANY, New York — The couple accused of kidnapping two young Amish sisters in northern New York were charged Thursday in federal court with sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography.

Nicole Vaisey, 25, and Stephen Howells Jr., 39, of Hermon, already have pleaded not guilty to state kidnapping charges. They were being held without bail in St. Lawrence County and were taken to federal court Thursday in Syracuse to hear the five new charges.

Handcuffed and wearing orange-and-white jail clothing, they acknowledged in court they knew what was happening and said little else, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported. Magistrate Judge Therese Wiley-Dancks appointed lawyers for both.

Calls to their attorneys were not immediately returned.

The 7- and 12-year-old girls were abducted last month from their family farm stand in rural Oswegatchie, near the Canadian border. Authorities say they were shackled and sexually abused before being released the next day about 20 miles from home.

The federal indictment unsealed Thursday in Syracuse says another young girl, now about 8 years old, also was sexually abused during the past two years.

"This indictment charges Howells and Vaisey with enticing and coercing children to engage in sexual conduct and making a video recording of it," said U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian, who addressed reporters.

Both are now in federal custody with a detention hearing scheduled next week. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Duncan declined to say whether there may be further evidence from the couple's computer that other children were sexually abused. He said the investigation is continuing.

St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain said Thursday she still plans to bring additional charges.

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