Federal Grand Jury Hands Down Superseding Indictment Against Stephen M. Howells Ii And Nicole F. Vaisey
SYRACUSE, NEW YORK – United States Attorney Richard S. Hartunian announced that a federal grand jury in Syracuse has handed down a 21 count superseding indictment against defendants STEPHEN M. HOWELLS II and NICOLE F. VAISEY. The superseding indictment, filed today, accuses HOWELLS with child exploitation offenses in all 21 counts, and charges VAISEY together with HOWELLS in 10 of the counts.
The superseding indictment specifies six different victims of the charged offenses.
HOWELLS, age 39, and VAISEY, age 25, both of Hermon, NY, are charged with one count (Count 1) of conspiracy to sexually exploit children between September 2013 and August 2014. They are also charged together with nine substantive counts (Counts 2 – 10) of exploiting three of the children during that time period. The nine counts represent nine separate dates on which the exploitation occurred.
In addition, HOWELLS is charged alone in six additional substantive counts (Counts 11 – 16), representing six additional dates, for the exploitation of four children.
The final five counts (Counts 17 – 21) of the superseding indictment charge HOWELLS with the possession of child pornography on each of five separate hard drives recovered from his residence. It is alleged that the images and video files possessed on these drives involve images of prepubescent minors and minors under the age of 12. The images and videos charged in these counts are separate and apart from those charged in the first 16 counts of the superseding indictment.*
HOWELLS and VAISEY face imprisonment of at least 15 years imprisonment, and up to 30 years on the conspiracy charge, and on each of the substantive exploitation counts. HOWELLS also faces a maximum sentence of 20 years on each of the possession counts. Conviction on any count requires a term of supervised release of a minimum of 5 years and up to life to follow any term of incarceration. In addition, conviction on any count of the superseding indictment will require HOWELLS and VAISEY to register as sex offenders.
United States Attorney Richard S. Hartunian said, “Sexual exploitation of minors is the most depraved, predatory abuse of our children. We will continue our efforts to make certain that every offense these defendants have committed is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Our goal is that they will never be near children again.” Special Agent in Charge, Andrew W. Vale of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Albany Division, stated, “This case epitomizes law enforcement's ability to keep our children safe when federal, state, and local agencies work together. The FBI will continue to work with our law-enforcement partners to identify any additional crimes committed by these defendants.”
St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells stated, “As the lead County law enforcement agency in this case, we appreciate the teamwork in discovering and identifying these additional victims. The interagency cooperation in this investigation has been invaluable. We will continue our efforts and work with our law enforcement partners to ensure that these defendants are brought to justice for any crimes they have committed.”
St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain stated, “The St. Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office is pleased our Federal partners in prosecution are vigilantly pursuing charges which provide greater penalties than those New York law affords. From the beginning of this case, our Federal partners have bestowed upon our community their expertise, experience, and vast resources for which we are much appreciative. “
This case is being investigated by the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Albany Division, and the St. Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office, with substantial assistance from the New York State Police.
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 United States 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 http://www.projectsafechildhood.gov.
*The charges are merely allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.