By Matthew Liptak
SYRACUSE, N.Y., April 16 (Reuters) - A man who has pleaded not guilty in the alleged kidnapping and sexual exploitation of two Amish sisters in northern New York will appear at change-of-plea hearing next month, prosecutors said on Thursday, raising the possibility that he would strike a deal on at least some of the charges against him.
Stephen Howells II and his girlfriend, Nicole Vaisey, both from Hermon, New York, are accused of abducting the two girls, aged 12 and 7, from a roadside farm stand in the rural Amish community of Oswegatchie, near the Canadian border, and then sexually exploiting them to make child pornography.
The couple also have been accused of exploiting an 8-year-old girl in a case that goes back to 2012.
John Duncan, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Syracuse, would not say whether Howells intended to plead guilty to any or all of the charges he faces. His hearing is scheduled for May 8.
The St. Lawrence County Sheriff's Office said Howells and Vaisey had lured the two sisters into a car on Aug. 13 with an offer to pet a dog and had the intent to enslave them. The girls were later released after an Amber Alert was issued.
Vaisey's attorney, Bradford Riendeau, has said she was in a submissive relationship with Howells and also had been a victim. Her next scheduled court date is July 6.
An attorney for Howells could not be reached for comment.
Howells and Vaisey, who were age 39 and 25, respectively, at the time of the alleged crimes, are facing 21 federal counts including conspiracy to sexually exploit children and sexual exploitation of the three children.
Howells also was charged with possession of child pornography after a search of five computer hard drives at his residence. The two also are facing state charges of first-degree kidnapping.
If found guilty of sexual exploitation, they faces from 15 to 30 years in prison. The possession of child pornography charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
The Amish, a Protestant denomination with Swiss origins and found throughout North America, are known for their simple dress and avoidance of modern conveniences. Their best-known community is in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. (Reporting By Frank McGurty; Editing by Bill Trott)
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