By Matthew Liptak
SYRACUSE N.Y. (Reuters) - A lawyer for Nicole Vaisey, an upstate New York woman accused with her partner of kidnapping two Amish girls and sexually exploiting six children in all, said on Thursday he considered his client to be one of the victims of her co-defendant.
A federal grand jury indicted Vaisey, 25, and Stephen Howells II, 39, on 21 counts, including conspiracy to sexually exploit children and sexual exploitation of children, Richard Hartunian, the U.S. Attorney for Northern New York, said on Wednesday.
“I still believe my client is one of the victims in this whole affair,” Vaisey's attorney, Bradford Riendeau, told Reuters. He would not elaborate.
Riendeau told local media previously that Vaisey was in a submissive relationship with Howells.
Wednesday's indictment supersedes an earlier indictment against the Hermon, New York, couple. It does not reveal the identities or exact ages of the alleged victims, but indicates that all the children were 12 or younger.
Howells was also charged with possession of child pornography after a search of five computer hard drives at his residence.
Last month a separate federal grand jury indicted the couple on three counts of child sexual exploitation and one count of conspiracy to sexually exploit children. At the time, Howells had been charged with one count of possession of child pornography.
In the initial indictment, the dates of some of the alleged crimes correspond to the Aug. 13 kidnapping of two Amish girls from a family farm-stand in Oswegatchie, New York, near the Canadian border. The Amish are a traditionalist sect known for their simple dress and avoidance of modern conveniences.
Howells and Vaisey previously pleaded not guilty to state charges of first-degree kidnapping in that case.
Howells' attorney, Randi Bianco, was unavailable for comment and John Duncan, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment other than to say the investigation was still under way.
The St. Lawrence County sheriff's office said the couple lured the sisters into a car with an offer to let them pet a dog. They later put shackles on the children, it said.
The sisters were released by Howells and Vaisey a day later when they became alarmed by news coverage of the missing children, Sheriff Kevin Wells said.
The pair face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the conspiracy charge and 30 years for each of the nine sexual exploitation counts.
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Eric Walsh)