SYRACUSE N.Y. (Reuters) - A couple accused of kidnapping two Amish sisters in northern New York state in August were charged on Thursday in federal court in Syracuse with sexual exploitation of children and child pornography possession.
Stephen Howells II, 39, and Nicole Vaisey, 25, of Hermon, New York, were indicted for the sexual exploitation of three girls, ages 12, 8 and 7. Both were also charged with one count each of conspiracy to sexually exploit children and Howells was also charged with possession of child pornography.
“The indictment charges Howells and Vaisey with enticing and coercing children to engage in sexual conduct and making a video recording of it,” U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian said in a statement.
Two of the girls were allegedly victimized this summer while the charges involving a third girl go back to 2012, the indictment said.
If found guilty of sexual exploitation the pair faces from 15 to 30 years in prison. The possession of child pornography charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Local media reported the two had previously pleaded not guilty to state charges of first-degree kidnapping in connection with the abduction of two Amish sisters ages 12 and 7 from a family farm stand in August in the rural Amish community of Oswegatchie, near the Canadian border.
The St. Lawrence County sheriff’s office said the sisters were lured into a car by Howells and Vaisey with the offer to pet a dog. They were later shackled.
The kidnapped girls were returned home in good health on Thursday after their disappearance on Wednesday night.
The U.S. Attorney’s statement did not say whether the new charges were tied to kidnapping case and if the two victims’ ages 12 and 7 were the same, but the time frame connected to the federal charges overlaps.
Bradford Riendeau, Vaisey’s attorney, told Reuters he had not seen the new indictment but that it did not come as a surprise.
“The whole story involves my client being victimized by Mr. Howells,” Riendeau said.
The Amish, who live throughout the United States, with the nation’s largest community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, are known for shunning modern conveniences.
Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Eric Walsh