Parents sentenced to up to 7 years in 'gifted' girls case

The parents consigned their daughters to what some “might call a life of sex slaves.”

That’s how the judge described it Wednesday as he sternly lectured Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus, the parents of the girls who were given as “wives” to a Bucks County man who sexually abused them, saying they had exposed their daughters to “unimaginable” trauma.

Despite a daughter’s plea and the couple’s expressions of regret, Bucks County Judge Jeffrey L. Finley sentenced both Stoltzfuses to up to seven years in jail Wednesday on child-endangerment counts in a sensational case that has gained national attention.

“You may have engaged in some odd relationship with Mr. [Lee] Kaplan on some warped theory it may benefit your family,” Finley told Daniel Stoltzfus. “For whatever sick purpose, whether or not you fell under the power, in a trance-like state, of Kaplan, you knowingly allowed your family, your children, your daughters to move into this person’s home.”

And to Savilla Stoltzfus, whose sentencing immediately followed, he said she had allowed “your daughters to believe it was appropriate for them to become betrothed at ages 10, 11, 12, 14 to a 40-, 50-year-old man and to crawl into his bed.”

The Lancaster County couple’s sentencings came just over a year after nine of the Stoltzfuses’ children were discovered living in Kaplan’s Feasterville home, along with Savilla and a toddler and an infant that Kaplan had fathered with the oldest Stoltzfus daughter.

Six of the daughters, now nine to 19, later testified in court that their sexual contact with Kaplan began between the ages of 7 and 11 for each of them.

Kaplan, 52, who cast himself as a prophet, preyed upon the vulnerable, cash-strapped Stoltzfus family, and over years took their daughters into his home and told them they were his wives, investigators said.

Lee Kaplan being led to a hearing last year. He was convicted on sexual-assault charges.

Kaplan was convicted on 17 counts of child sexual abuse and rape. He is set to be sentenced in September.

“There is harm to these children that we can’t begin to imagine and maybe we will never understand,” Finley said Wednesday. “But one thing we do know is that victims of sexual trauma tend to sustain lifelong harm.”

The Stoltzfus parents were charged with one count of child endangerment each, but Finley told them they had harmed the lives of 11 children.

Daniel Stoltzfus, 44, pleaded no contest in April. “I regret having to put my children through what they’ve been through this past year and wish to reunite with my children,” he told the court Wednesday.

Finley sentenced him to 3½ to 7 years in state prison, and said the term would have been higher if possible.

“Everything indicates he loves his children very much … but has been misguided,” said his attorney, Timothy J. Barton.

Savilla Stoltzfus, 43, who testified at Kaplan’s trial, pleaded guilty to the charge. Finley sentenced her to 3 to 7 years, acknowledging her cooperation had led to most of the counts against Kaplan, who was originally charged with raping only the oldest. In October, Savilla Stoltzfus told prosecutors he had had sex with others and persuaded her daughters to testify.

But Finley said she had tried to deceive police, schemed to hide what was happening in the house from the outside world, and watched Kaplan bed her daughters for 4½ years.

Savilla Stoltzfus said at the proceeding that she was “very, very lost” when the family met Kaplan and asked Finley to forgive her for “the fact that I put my children at risk on behalf of my own wishes and wants in life.”

“When looking at the case in its entirety, perfectly appropriate sentence,” said her lawyer, Craig Penglase, after the sentencing, but questioned why “there’s really no distinction between the conduct and behavior of Daniel and the conduct and behavior of Savilla, when she is the reason that the prosecution of Lee Kaplan was so successful.”

Finley ordered both parents to undergo therapy and mental health evaluations. They will have to complete therapy in order to be reunited with their children. They have 14 children in total, some of whom lived with their father in Lancaster County during the years the family was involved with Kaplan.

Two of the Stoltzfuses’ daughters watched with somber faces as their parents were sentenced, along with an older brother who testified against Kaplan and who led a delegation of two dozen Amish adults and two infants into the courtroom Wednesday.

A daughter asked Finley to consider the children’s love and need for their parents, saying the sentence would punish not just the parents, but increase their daughters’ pain.

“It is as though our mother lives on another planet,” she said, “instead of being our all-important caregiver as she once was.”

Bucks County Deputy District Attorney Kate Kohler called the sentences appropriate and the best thing for the daughters. “Daniel and Savilla both committed heinous acts against their children,” she said.“These children need time to heal and to learn in therapy about what’s supposed to be happening in the real world.”

They are under the state’s care and have been doing well, Kohler said. Penglase said a plan to reunify them legally with their parents had been in place, but the sentences would make it impossible.

Kaplan’s attorney, Ryan Hyde, watched the sentencings. He said Finley had “an appropriate read on the case.”

“We’ll have to see how much of that applies to my client,” Hyde said. “He still maintains his innocence, but I think he understands the system does not view it the same way.”

The couple met Kaplan at an auction nearly 15 years ago, and he helped them transition from the Amish faith while assisting them financially, family members have testified in court. Kaplan told the family he was a prophet of God, and he soon arranged with Daniel Stoltzfus to eventually take their second-oldest daughter — 7 years old at the time — as his wife, according to testimony from family members at Kaplan’s trial.

He began inviting the girl and her older sister into the bed he used at the Stoltzfus home in Lancaster County, and soon said he would take the older one as a wife, too. As the Stoltzfus family moved around and then began renovating a house, the two oldest girls moved in with Kaplan, followed by more of their sisters and their mother, until nine of the girls were there. The oldest had two children with Kaplan, the first at age 14.

“You exchanged a certain level of comfort for the intellectual, emotional, and sexual well-being of your children,” Finley told Savilla Stoltzfus. “You watched day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year as Mr. Kaplan took your daughters by the hand, led them into his bedroom, locked the door behind.”