© 2023 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Second suspect in Amish girls kidnapping pleads guilty to federal charges

St. Lawrence County Sheriff's Office
Nicole Vaisey, left, pleaded guilty Thursday to 10 federal charges. Her boyfriend, Stephen Howells II, right, pleaded guilty last week

Nicole Vaisey admitted in federal court Thursday that she helped her boyfriend kidnap two Amish sisters from their family's roadside farm stand last August, and sexually abused them before letting them go a day later. 

Vaisey, 25, also pleased guilty to a total of 10 felony charges, including nine charges of sexual exploitation and one charge of conspiracy. Vaisey was accused of abusing four other girls as well, all under the age of 12.

Prosecutors say Vaisey helped her boyfriend, Stephen Howells II, kidnap the Amish girls and videotaped Howells abusing the girls after they had been drugged. 

Until pleading guilty, Vaisey had maintained her innocence, saying that she had been in an abusive relationship with Howells and that he forced her commit the acts. She was scheduled to go to trial next month. But in court papers filed this week, prosecutors claimed that Vaisey had signed an agreement with Howells, which said she could leave the relationship at any time. 

Vaisey faces up to 30 years in prison for each of the 10 counts when she's sentenced on September 25. 

Howells pleaded guilty to 21 federal charges last week that he sexually abused six children between December 2012 and August 2014. He faces up to 580 years in prison when he is sentenced in September. 

Both agree to plea guilty to state charges

St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain announced later Thursday that both Vaisey and Howells also will plead guilty to state kidnapping charges.  At a press conference in Canton, Rain, who says she spoke with the attorneys for Stephen Howells and Nicole Vaisey, said the guilty plea means the two Amish girls will not have to take the stand in court.

“It has been my goal since the inception of this case that the young victims would not have to testify, and also that the defendants would not see the light of day. Through the efforts of the both the state and federal prosecutors, that has occurred,” said Rain.

The state charges carry a maximum of 25 years in prison.

Rain said the prosecutors were “surprised” that Vaisey pleaded guilty, because Vaisey’s attorney had been making the case that she was in a “master and slave” relationship with Howells.

Rain said she doesn’t anticipate any further state charges in the case, effectively ending the county’s investigation once Howells and Vaisey officially submit their pleas within two weeks.

Jason has served as WRVO's news director in some capacity since August 2017. As news director, Jason produces hourly newscasts, and helps direct local news coverage and special programming. Before that, Jason hosted Morning Edition on WRVO from 2009-2019. Jason came to WRVO in January of 2008 as a producer/reporter. Before that, he spent two years as an anchor/reporter at WSYR Radio in Syracuse.