At 'gifted' trial, girl tells of sex with Lee Kaplan at age 7

Child Given Away Arrests
Lee Kaplan, front in yellow, is led to a preliminary hearing Aug. 2, 2016, in Bucks County. (MEGAN TRIMBLE / Associated Press)

 

Lee Kaplan is on trial on sexual-assault charges. Lower Southampton Police Department 

On the second day of Lee Kaplan’s sexual-abuse trial, a girl took the stand to describe summers swimming in Kaplan’s backyard pool, learning history from documentaries, tending to the chickens, picking fruit from trees — and having sex with the man 37 years her senior beginning when she was 10 or 11.

“Did you know why Mr. Kaplan was having sex with you?” she was asked Thursday by a prosecutor.

“Because I’m his wife,” the now-15-year-old answered.

“How did you know you were his wife?”

“Because he told me.”

Over two days, a parade of witnesses have described the extraordinary hold Kaplan had over the once-Amish Stoltzfus family, centered on God, education, and marriage to the underage daughters.

The 15-year-old who testified first Thursday is one of six sisters whom Kaplan is charged with sexually assaulting while housing them and five others in his Feasterville home over a period of years. Kaplan, 52, was arrested last June after police discovered 11 girls living in his home, including two he fathered with the oldest daughter.

Kaplan considered the sisters his “wives” and allegedly told police at least one had been “gifted” to him by her parents. As each of them, all wearing baggy homemade flowered dresses, with wan faces and long hair, testified about being taken to Kaplan’s room at prepubescent ages for sexual acts,

Kaplan remained quiet, often twisting his beard with his left hand and occasionally twitching his shoulders, neck, and head. His gray hair and beard, though cut shorter, were prominent above his black suit and blue tie. Members of the jury listened stoically to their accounts.

Thursday’s testimony at the trial before Bucks County Court Judge Jeffrey L. Finley came the day after new details were disclosed in court about the complex relationship between the family of Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus and Kaplan, In April, the girls’ mother pleaded guilty to child endangerment. Their father pleaded no contest to the same charge.

Now ages 9 to 19, the six girls said that they love Kaplan, that they had liked their living arrangement, and that they did not want to talk about their sexual relations with him. On Thursday afternoon, their older brother testified about his suspicions about Kaplan, who offered them the “life that my parents were looking for” as they abandoned the Amish faith, a life they had been unable to find until Kaplan appeared, telling them he communicated with God.

The younger girls said they had initially lied to detectives after Kaplan was arrested because their older sisters told them not to tell. The older sisters said the relationships were no one’s business; the 15-year-old said she never told anyone about the sex because she thought it would be unfaithful to the man she knew as her husband.

They told authorities in October about having sex with Kaplan, after their mother, wearing a device that recorded the conversation for prosecutors, urged them to tell the truth.

The 15-year-old said that while living with Kaplan, she felt she could not refuse if he asked her to do something.

“I feel like I trust him well enough that if he told me to do something, it would be for the better,” said the girl.

She and four of her younger sisters each took the stand Thursday. The oldest testified Wednesday. Each described a similar scenario: Kaplan would take one of them into his bedroom, close or lock the door, pull up the girl’s dress, and engage in sexual contact.

The 18-year-old described intercourse, as did the 15-year-old and the 14-year-old. The 11-year-old described anal contact without penetration. The 9-year-old described anal sex. For each, it began between the ages of 7 and 11.

The 18-year-old was the daughter promised to Kaplan by her parents; the rest were not explicitly given to him as wives, Savilla Stoltzfus said Wednesday. She was the first to sleep in Kaplan’s room in the family’s home, at age 7. She was 14 when he consummated their “marriage” and said she believed sex was an expression of his affection. She and her older sister were the first to move to Kaplan’s house.

“Mostly it was his idea,  but we liked it, because our parents were kind of struggling at the time, so it worked out for everybody,” she said. “I was very happy where we were,” she added later.

Kaplan had also told them not to tell anyone about their sexual encounters, each said. In general, he did not talk after having sex, said the 9-year-old, who was about 7 the first time Kaplan had sex with her. The only time they spoke, she remembered, was once when she said something afterward about “how far China was away.”

The 14-year-old said Kaplan asked her if she wanted to be his wife before the first time they had sex, which occurred when she was 10. She said that she did not know what was going to happen before he had sex with her, and that it hurt, but she was “glad to be his wife.”

His legal wife, Virginia Kaplan, 58, testified that she left her husband in 2009 because he was spending all his time in Lancaster County, but that Kaplan had refused to sign divorce papers. Sometimes, she said, Kaplan would stay with the Stoltzfuses for weeks or months.

“He was gone all the time. I was by myself,” she said.

Kaplan’s attorney, Ryan Hyde, has argued that Kaplan was taken advantage of by an opportunistic Stoltzfus couple, who needed money and child care. He said after court on Thursday that five of the girls came forward with accusations against him only after “sitting in a room in the DA’s Office,” alleging that they did it to get their mother a deal to get out of prison.

“This isn’t necessarily about Lee and sex, this is about the Stoltzfuses and money,” Hyde said.

Also on Thursday, the girls’ older brother said Kaplan prophesied that the family would have success — they would win the lottery, he said God told him — and convinced them that his interpretations of their dreams were coming from God. He offered them “a life that my parents were looking for” as they abandoned the Amish faith.

“He seemed knowledgeable, a man of God, just what I wanted to be,” said the brother, now 22, who said he later changed his mind about Kaplan.

He said that when one of his brothers questioned Kaplan’s plan to marry the second-oldest sister, Kaplan became angry and “told him not to dare question what God had put together.” That was the last time someone in the family questioned him, the 22-year-old testified.

He said Kaplan threw away or burned the family’s storybooks and novels, and had the father rip out the letters of Paul from their Bibles. He told them that his wife would die soon and that he would then marry one of the strippers at a strip club he frequented, and to whom he said he ministered.

Kaplan also told the couple that their youngest son was the reincarnation of an earlier son whom Daniel Stolzfus had killed in a forklift accident, the brother said. None of the children was allowed to socialize with their peers because Kaplan said young children attract evil spirits, the brother said.

When a younger sister told the brother who testified that Kaplan had sexual contact with her, he typed out a letter to his father. For telling her brother, the girl was confined to her room for weeks.

After that, and after the father learned that his son had been researching cults online, he destroyed the boy’s computer. The son eventually left the Stoltzfus home and provided information to the district attorney after Kaplan’s arrest.

“I do not want to carry the secret all my life knowing I could’ve done something about it,” he said. “Doing what’s right is important.”