Teen 'gifted' to Bucks man gives quiet testimony

Child Given Away Arrests
Daniel Stoltzfus (left in yellow) and Lee Kaplan (right in yellow) are led to a preliminary hearing Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016, outside Bucks County Magisterial District Judge John I. Waltman's courtroom in Feasterville.

"Fourteen," the young woman responded when asked: How old was she when she began having sex with Lee Kaplan, a man 33 years her senior?

She was 14 when she moved in with him, she testified, 15 when their first child was born, and 17 when the second one came.

Holding a microphone with thin fingers, occasionally looking down or putting a hand to her face, the teenager who was allegedly "gifted" to Kaplan spoke softly but steadily on the witness stand Tuesday at a preliminary hearing in Feasterville for Kaplan and her parents, Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus.

After the 75-minute hearing, District Judge John I. Waltman ordered the three held for trial in a sexual-abuse case that has shocked the Bucks County community and drawn national attention.

Outside the packed courtroom, at least 40 people in Amish garb gathered to await the decision. The Stoltzfus family, of Quarryville, Lancaster County, left the Amish church a few years after meeting Kaplan.

Police said the adults claimed the teenager was given to Kaplan at 14 in exchange for his having helped the Stoltzfuses out of financial ruin, but Savilla Stoltzfus' attorney has disputed that account. He also has said he will seek to sever the cases.

Discovered in Kaplan's house in June along with nine of her sisters and her two children, the teenager, now 18, testified that she knew Kaplan well before she moved into his Feasterville home four years ago, and that she cares about him.

Talking so quietly that she nearly swallowed her words, she helped unspool the story of how the girls may have gotten to the house on Old Street Road.

In the years before she moved in with Kaplan, "we moved back and forth," she said. "He commuted back and forth."

Daniel Stoltzfus and Kaplan became business partners in the early 2000s, and he grew close to the family.

"She grew up with him," said Lower Southampton Police Detective Gerald Scott, testifying about a conversation with Daniel Stoltzfus on the day of his arrest.

Stoltzfus thought his daughter and Kaplan "got along very well together" and had established a relationship in the 13 years the family had known Kaplan, Scott said. Savilla Stoltzfus told detectives that "they were a good match," said Lower Southampton Police Detective Sgt. Shane Hearn.

So she moved in with him, and her mother and sisters later followed, she said.

There was no identification for the girls found in the house, nor was there any evidence that they had ever been to doctors or schools. Detectives have said they may have been home-schooled, as workbooks were found in the home.

But the 18-year-old showed confusion at some questions.

"What do you mean by that?" she said, frowning, when a prosecutor asked who delivered her children.

The bright blue dress she wore - a patchwork of flowers and polka-dots, with puffy sleeves and buttons down the front - hung off her gangly frame. Her cheeks appeared sunken and her front teeth protruded; her hair hung past her waist.

In the corner of the courtroom sat Kaplan - with small eyes, a mouth obscured by a beard, and a mane of coarse gray hair - at times moving around during the testimony, not always keeping his eyes on the proceedings, sometimes leaning forward to whisper to his attorney.

He spoke once from his seat to say, "She doesn't understand the word chaperone," when the woman was asked whether an adult was always present for her interaction with Kaplan before she moved in with him.

She and Kaplan were not legally married, but allegedly told police they considered themselves spouses. Glancing at Kaplan only a few times during her testimony, the woman said that at first her parents did not know about her sexual relationship with Kaplan.

She gave birth to her children "in the bedroom" she shared with Kaplan, with her mother delivering the children, she said.

Savilla Stoltzfus moved into Kaplan's house upon the birth of the first child and stayed. So did "most of my younger sisters," the young woman said. Daniel Stoltzfus visited frequently, she said.

She cooked, cleaned, and cared for the yard and did not have an outside job, she said.

Kaplan is charged with rape; Daniel Stoltzfus, child endangerment and conspiracy to commit sexual assault' and Savilla Stoltzfus, one count of child endangerment.

Attorneys for the adults suggested through questioning that the "giving" of the girl could have been giving her hand in marriage. Daniel Stoltzfus' lawyer, Timothy Barton, argued that Stoltzfus allowed his daughter only to live with Kaplan.

"There is no evidence Daniel Stoltzfus came to an agreement with Lee Kaplan to allow [him] to commit sexual assault" on his daughter, Barton said.

Assistant District Attorney Kate Kohler argued that Stoltzfus was complicit in the relationship because he did nothing when he found out the couple were having sex.

"Mr. Stoltzfus gave his 14-year-old daughter to his 47-year-old business partner," she said. "You do not give your daughter to a man that's not in your family and not expect them to have a sexual relationship."

The remaining girls in the house were the 18-year-old's sisters, ranging in age from 3 to 17. Although they were sometimes seen in the yard, neighbors did not realize so many children were living there, and some said they had wondered about Kaplan's behavior over the years.

When police came to the house in June, acting on a child-abuse tip by a neighbor, Kaplan presented only some of the girls. The rest the police found hiding throughout the house, including sitting in the chicken coop with her infant niece.

Upon questioning by county child-welfare officials, the sisters did not provide any evidence of abuse by Kaplan. Police said in June they would be questioned again.

Bucks County and Lower Southampton detectives, who have been examining evidence retrieved at the house in June, have not brought any other charges against Kaplan or the Stoltzfuses.

The girls are now living together in Lancaster County, cared for by Bucks County Children and Youth Services. Child-welfare proceedings are continuing in court. The 18-year-old has her children with her, officials have said.

jmcdaniel@philly.com

610-313-8205

@McDanielJustine