Lee Kaplan going to trial in case of `gifted’ girls

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The girl was 7 or 8 when her parents promised her to Lee Kaplan. About five years later, in 2012, Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus sent their daughter from the family’s Lancaster County home to Kaplan’s house in Feasterville.

Kaplan took her as his wife and got her pregnant. Soon, some of her sisters came to join them, as did her mother. Kaplan considered several of them his wives.

When police came to the house last June on a child-abuse tip, they found 11 girls – nine of Savilla’s daughters, the youngest 3 and the oldest 17, herself the mother of a toddler and an infant. Some of the girls were found on mattresses in the basement, surrounded by an enormous model train that now constitutes most of Kaplan’s wealth. One was hiding in the chicken coop, huddled with the baby in her arms.

The arrests of Kaplan and the Stoltzfus parents created a national media sensation. Neighbors said they had always thought something was off about Kaplan, or that they had wondered about the girls in long blue dresses they had occasionally seen in the yard.

On Tuesday, almost a year after Kaplan opened the door to local detectives, the bizarre saga is set to enter the next legal phase as Kaplan goes on trial in Doylestown on charges of raping or sexually assaulting six of the Stoltzfus girls. Some of the Stoltzfus daughters and Kaplan’s estranged wife are expected to testify. His attorney has filed paperwork that leaves the door open for an insanity defense.

Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus were charged with child endangerment, and last month entered no-contest and guilty pleas, respectively. They are to be sentenced after Kaplan’s trial.

Prosecutors, testimony from detectives and the oldest Stoltzfus daughter, and answers given in court by the Stoltzfus parents provide the following account:

Daniel Stoltzfus met Lee Kaplan at an auction in 2003, and the man began helping the family transition away from the Amish faith, providing help with their bankruptcy, and starting a metalworking business with Daniel. According to a financial lawsuit filed by the Stoltzfuses, Amish leaders disapproved of their relations with Kaplan. The girls’ older brother told the Inquirer and Daily News last summer that Kaplan was a good man from whom his sisters could learn.

But he also sought a larger and potentially more insidious role: that of teacher and spiritual adviser, allegedly casting himself as a prophet from God, prosecutors said. He interpreted the family members’ dreams. The children called him Lave, an English name that means “lord.”

He “educated” the females about their places in society. Eventually, he told them he would strengthen the Stoltzfus bloodline by inserting his own blood into it — having children with a Stoltzfus daughter. He said that it was God’s will that he have sexual relations with the girls, according to testimony at Savilla Stoltzfus’ hearing.

When the oldest Stoltzfus girl gave birth to Kaplan’s first child, her mother, Savilla, delivered the baby. After that, Daniel Stoltzfus gave his own spouse to Kaplan as another wife, and Savilla moved into the Feasterville home.

After the girls were found, Kaplan told detectives that he was afraid the children would be taken away, and promised to buy more air mattresses and child seats and “do all sorts of things” if the living conditions were inadequate, testified Sgt. Shane Hearn of the Lower Southampton Police Department. Kaplan and Savilla had at first given shifting stories about how many children were in the home and to whom they belonged.

In his conversation with Hearn that June day, Kaplan used the word gifted in describing how the oldest daughter came to his home from her parents’. He opined about “religion, witchcraft, and women’s role in society.” He allegedly was teaching the Stoltzfuses “what it meant to be women,” and had conversations about sex with them that “helped define their sense of purpose as women.”

“He said he knew this day was coming, that it was inevitable,” Hearn said, “that society would crash in on what he was trying to do with his family.”

At the time of his arrest, Kaplan was charged only with raping the oldest girl. The other sisters did not tell prosecutors he had harmed them. Four months later, the Bucks County district attorney filed new charges, alleging abuse of five others, then aged 8 to 17. There were no accusations relating to the remaining three, who were 7, 5, and 3 when found.

Kaplan “groomed them to believe that he was a religious, cultlike figure to whom they should submit their will,” Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub said in announcing those charges in October.

It was revealed in court last month that Savilla Stoltzfus, cooperating with prosecutors, agreed to tell her children to talk to detectives. The six oldest daughters visited her in prison and she wore a wire. The girls said they were worried about Kaplan getting in trouble; their mother told them it was OK to tell the truth and it would be better for them to tell their own story, according to an account from prosecutors of the tape, which was reviewed by Judge Jeffrey L. Finley.

At the time of those charges, Kaplan’s attorney said the man was shocked by the allegations and believed he had a “good relationship” with the girls. He has said Kaplan maintains his innocence and urged the public to reserve judgment, arguing that the district attorney was attempting to convict Kaplan in the press by labeling him as a prophet-cult leader.

“It’s tough, it’s brutal. It’s a situation where he cares a great deal about these people,” Hyde said after last month’s hearing.

When the detectives interviewed the children again, the girls described various sexual assaults by Kaplan, beginning at 6 years old in the youngest case. In separate video interviews of the two youngest played in court, the girls — now 9 and 11 — described “lying down” with Kaplan, alone in his bedroom.

The older girl began to cry as she told detectives that she hadn’t wanted anyone to know “because I didn’t want my parents to get in trouble.”

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