Lee Kaplan, abuser of sisters, sentenced to up to 87 years in jail

Child Given Away
Lee Kaplan is led to a hearing in August 2016. He is being sentenced Wednesday on 17 counts of child sexual assault.

Lee Kaplan spent at least eight years sexually assaulting six underage sisters, starting with the oldest and taking each of them in succession as his “wives.”

For that, a Bucks County judge ruled Wednesday, Kaplan will spend 30 to 87 years in prison.

Corrupt, perverted, atrocious — use what adjective you’d like to use,” said Judge Jeffrey L. Finley of Kaplan’s sexual contact with the girls, which in the youngest cases started at age 7.

The sentencing hearing in Doylestown marked the possibly final chapter in a 16-month case that drew national headlines. But it also offered, for the first time, new details about the 52-year-old Feasterville man at its center.

Beyond working in machinery and construction, Kaplan had studied aerospace engineering at Pennsylvania State University. He’d been a math and science tutor. And he’d spent “most of his life” working with children and college-aged people, including as a youth minister.

It added heft to the picture painted at trial of a perhaps uncommonly intelligent man whose brains and perversion helped him prey on “a naive and vulnerable family,” as the judge put it.

When Finley asked if Kaplan had anything to say, his attorney looked at him: “Now’s your chance.”

Kaplan didn’t apologize or deny the crimes, but said he wasn’t sure what he could say: “I honestly believe no matter what I said or how true it was, the way of media, public opinion, politics is too great to bother argument.”

To which the judge later replied: “While you may believe or have me believe that that was just a natural development of a relationship, well, I’m sorry, not in this society.”

Kaplan was convicted in June on 17 counts of child sexual assault for abusing the six oldest daughters of Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus, a formerly Amish couple from Quarryville, Lancaster County. The incidents began in 2008, according to trial testimony, and continued until June 2016, when a neighbor’s tip to the state child-abuse hotline led child-welfare workers and police to knock on Kaplan’s door.

The shocking case drew national attention. In a five-day trial in June, all of the sisters and more than a dozen other witnesses testified about Kaplan’s isolated home, the strange beliefs he taught the Stoltzfuses, and what happened when the girls were alone with him.

Kaplan had taken all six girls as his “wives,” teaching them that it was a wife’s duty to have sexual relations with her husband. He had two children by the oldest daughter, now 19, who first gave birth at 14.

In court Wednesday, Kaplan frequently shook his head in disagreement as he listened to the proceeding, tugged at his inches-long beard, and twitched or shifted. He spoke in a clear drawl to answer questions but did not offer a defense for himself; no one came to testify on his behalf.

None of the victims were in the courtroom and had declined to provide a statement for the hearing, prosecutors said. Their older brother, who testified against Kaplan and has attended all the proceedings, came with his mother’s Amish sister and another Amish man.

Camera icon Lower Southampton Police Department via AP
Lee Kaplan, sentenced Wednesday in ‘gifted’ girls case.

Kaplan has denied any wrongdoing; Hyde said after the sentencing they would consider an appeal.

“We’re reviewing all our options,” he said. “At this point, there are certainly some issues that need to be explored, but that’s not my decision at the end of the day; that’s Mr. Kaplan’s.”

Hyde said he was not surprised but was “a little disappointed” by the sentence.

He argued at the hearing that Kaplan had been a source of good in the community and the Stoltzfus family.

Finley, who also ruled Wednesday that Kaplan be classified as a sexually violent predator, disputed that version of events.

“One could argue… that you utilized [your intellect] to help establish a relationship with the children not for the purpose of putting a roof over their head or putting a meal in their stomachs or educating them, but for getting them to climb into your bed,” he said to Kaplan, raising his voice. “If there was a good intent, it was washed away by the horrific acts that you committed upon this family.”

Kaplan’s jail time is made up of separate sentences for each of the six victims. Deputy District Attorney Kate Kohler called Kaplan a danger “to children everywhere.”

“This day couldn’t have come sooner,” she said after the sentencing. “I am very happy that he will be spending the next 30 to 87 years behind bars. That’s exactly where he belongs.”

The Stoltzfuses, who have 14 children in total and allowed all 10 of their daughters except one to move in with Kaplan, were both sentenced to up to seven years in prison in July for child endangerment. Daniel Stoltzfus, 44, pleaded no contest. His wife, Savilla, 43, pleaded guilty and testified at Kaplan’s trial after also persuading her children, who had at first denied that Kaplan had sex with them, to tell authorities about their life in Kaplan’s home. The couple met Kaplan in 2002, and he aided them over the years as they left their Amish community, faced financial troubles, and lost their home.

The six girls, now 9 to 19 years old, were placed in a group home with their other underage siblings (Kaplan’s two children are there with their mother). Child-welfare hearings, which are closed to the public, will be held later.

At their parents’ sentencing, the second-oldest pleaded with the judge to be lenient, saying the girls needed their mother and father. Individual and family counseling before any potential reunion with their children is part of both adults’ sentences.

When officials showed up at Kaplan’s home in June 2016, the windows were covered or nailed shut, the rooms sparsely furnished — Kaplan had the only bed — and the house filled with food and supplies. Kaplan and the Stoltzfus girls grew crops, raised catfish and bees, ran Kaplan’s model-train business — and never needed to leave the home. And Kaplan regularly brought the girls into his bedroom, in turns, and told them not to tell anyone.

The girls did not have any toiletries in the home and did not know how to wash their hair. They had been extensively educated by Kaplan, their mother, and with books and the internet; they all know how to play musical instruments.

Although they testified about the abuse, the girls also said at the trial they loved Kaplan and had been happy in his home.

“I feel like I trust him well enough that if he told me to do something, it would be for the better,” the 15-year-old sister said in June.

Prosecutors said during the summer that the girls were doing well and had been laughing and smiling more. They are now enrolled in cyber school and one is taking classes for college credit, Kohler said Wednesday, and they had an “amazing time” at summer camps.