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Couple gets maximum sentence for sexually exploiting children, kidnapping Amish girls

A federal judge handed down the maximum sentence to two people who pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of six different children, including two Amish girls they kidnapped. It was essentially a life sentence for both of them as they face hundreds of years behind bars.

Richard Hartunian, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York said after Thursday's sentencing, Stephen Howells and Nicole Vaisey will never abuse another child again.

“I’ve been a prosecutor for 25 years, this was one of the nastiest cases I’ve ever seen, one of the most horrific examples of human conduct that I can recall,” Hartunian said. "The sentences today are a reflection of the monstrous crimes committed by these defendants against the most vulnerable among us, our children."

Nicole Vaisey (left) and Stephen Howells (right).
Credit St. Lawrence County Sheriff's Office
Nicole Vaisey (left) and Stephen Howells (right).

Hartunian said for 11 months, in 2013 and 2014, the couple conspired to sexually exploit children to produce videos and pictures. They made arrangements with friends and family of four of the children to spend time with them. Howells sexually abused the young girls, ages 5 to 11, with Vaisey also sometimes participating, as the two took turns filming the abuse. Howells used his position as a registered nurse to obtain drugs such as Ambien, Versed and Valium to sedate the girls. 

They planned and carried out the kidnapping of two Amish girls from their family’s roadside stand in Saint Lawrence County, pretending to be customers. Howells forced the children into the car, luring them with a puppy, then Vaisey drove them away. The children were restrained as captives, released in a remote location the following night only because, as prosecutors maintain, Howells and Vaisey had not yet finished constructing their soundproof room and their victims’ cries would be heard.

Lisa Fletcher, the lead prosecutor in the case, said the kidnapping was unusual, but it is what started the investigation that led to Thursday’s sentencing.

“I’m a mom and I do this because of that and I do this for the kids, I do it because of cases like this and days like today," Fletcher said. "I feel that, in our own little way, we are making efforts to make our community safer for our kids.”

U.S. District Judge Glenn Suddaby said Howells and Vaisey were the threat parents worry about every day; the nightmares that never go away for children. Howells was sentenced to 580 years and Vaisey was sentenced to 300 years in prison. They both also pleaded guilty to kidnapping in St. Lawrence County Court and will be sentenced there in January.

Copyright 2015 WRVO

Tom Magnarelli is a freelance reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area.