Sex charges for couple in Amish kidnapping case

The booking photos of Stephen Howells II, left, and Nicole Vaisey, who are charged with kidnapping two Amish sisters in northern New York state.

Lawrence County Sheriff's Office/AP

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

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.

Nicole Vaisey, 25, and Stephen Howells Jr., 39, of Hermon, have already pleaded not guilty to state kidnapping charges. They are 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 federal indictment released Thursday in Syracuse says another young girl, now about 8 years old, was also sexually abused previously over 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. The Justice Department has made protecting minors from sexual exploitation a high priority, he said.

St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain, who had been planning to seek additional charges against the couple, said she hadn't been consulted by federal prosecutors and would wait to see what they did to avoid crossing up cases with similar charges.