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Friday, May 8, 2015

New York Man Enters Guilty Plea to All Twenty One Counts of Federal Indictment

Stephen M. Howells II, 39, of Hermon, New York, pleaded guilty today to all 21 counts of a federal indictment charging him with child exploitation offenses, according to U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian for the North District of New York and Special Agent in Charge Andrew T. Vale of the Albany Division for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  Howells will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Glenn T. Suddaby on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015 at 11 a.m. in Syracuse, New York.  A trial is scheduled for co-defendant Nicole Vaisey on June 22, 2015 before Judge Suddaby in Syracuse, New York.

Howells pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce child pornography, producing child pornography (Counts 2-10) and possessing child pornography.  The conspiracy count (Count 1) and 15 additional counts relate to Howells’ sexual abuse of six separate children, ranging in age from 5 to 11 and his filming of that abuse on sixteen dates between December 2012 and August 2014.  Howells is charged alone in six of those counts (Counts 11-16), Vaisey is also charged with conspiracy and nine of the production counts (Counts 2-10).  Howells also pleaded guilty to five counts of possession of child pornography (Counts 17-21), separate and apart from the children and images charged in the first 16 counts of the superseding indictment.  These counts relate to numerous image and video files Howells collected from the Internet and downloaded to each of five separate hard drives from computers that were recovered from his residence.  These images and video files also involve prepubescent minors and minors under the age of 12.

Howells’ admissions as part of his guilty plea included the following: from September 2013 to August 2014, Howells conspired with Vaisey to produce child pornography.  Howells obtained drugs through his work as a registered nurse and he used the drugs to sedate the child victims.  On 16 specified dates between December 2012 and August 2014, Howells sexually abused six separate children, ranging in age from 5 to 11, sometimes with Vaisey also doing so, as Howells or Vaisey filmed that abuse.  Howells and Vaisey planned to abduct children to engage in sexually explicit conduct.  They kidnapped two Amish children from a farm stand in August of 2014 to use them to engage in sexually explicit conduct and produce images and videos of that conduct.  On Aug. 15, 2014, Howells possessed five separate computer hard drives containing numerous image and video files of actual young children engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Howells faces at least 15 years imprisonment and up to 30 years on the conspiracy charge, as well as on each of the substantive exploitation counts.  He also faces a maximum sentence of 20 years on each of the possession counts.  The court has the discretion to run all of these sentences concurrently or consecutively to one another. Howells will also be required to serve a term of supervised release of a minimum of five years and up to life to follow any term of incarceration.  In addition, conviction on any count of the superseding indictment will require Howells to register as a sex offender.

“The criminal conduct committed by Stephen Howells is beyond comprehension,” said U.S. Attorney Hartunian.  “Our hearts go out to all the young victims who endured his unspeakable acts.  We will continue to do everything in our power to see that he will never abuse another innocent child.  I commend the community, the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, the New York State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for working tirelessly to bring him to justice.”

“The crimes committed by Howells are some of the most horrific imaginable,” said Special Agent in Charge Vale.  “He carefully planned and carried out these abuses and exploitations and today's guilty plea is the result of a vigorous investigation to locate Howells and uncover the full extent of his criminal actions.  The FBI commends the work and dedication of its law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney's Office.  It is because of this essential collaboration that the victims were recovered and that Howells is receiving justice for his crimes.”

This case was investigated by the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI with substantial assistance from the New York State Police.  It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lisa Fletcher and Tamara Thomson.

The case is brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.  Launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice, Project Safe Childhood is led by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.  For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

Updated May 8, 2015