A Pennsylvania couple financially ruined after leaving the Amish church was arrested on Thursday for conspiracy to commit sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child after admitting to “gifting” their underage daughter to a business associate who went on to father two of her young children.
Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus were arraigned in criminal court in Bucks County, along with 52-year-old Lee Kaplan—who admitted to accepting the girl as payment for his financial help in 2012, when she was 14 years old. Police discovered the girl—who’s now 18—and her two daughters along with nine other female children living in Kaplan’s home in the quiet bedroom community of Feasterville after a concerned neighbor alerted police.
According to police none of the other children in the home have been identified and no birth certificates were found in Kaplan’s residence.
According to Lower Southampton Township Police officials, the 12 children were well cared for and did not appear to be malnourished.
“The conditions in the house were fine,” Detective Sgt. Shane Hearn told a local newspaper. “Kaplan has a farm there and chickens running all over the place. I guess they were living off the land.”
Kaplan was charged with eight felonies, including statutory rape, corrupting a minor, and aggravated indecent assault. All three suspects are being held on $1 million bail in Bucks County Correctional Facility.
According to the criminal complaint, the Stoltzfus couple gave their daughter to Kaplan in 2012 as payment for “helping his family out of financial ruin.” In March of 2013 she gave birth to a daughter. She conceived another child in December, three months before her 18th birthday. It’s not clear if they were born at the house or in a hospital.
Daniel Stolzfus told police he gave his daughter to Kaplan after “researching the legality of the exchange on the internet.”
Assuming the information he received suggested the trade was legitimate, it was wrong. The age of consent in Pennsylvania is 16. Children between the ages of 13 and 15 may only consent to sexual activity with partners who are no more than four years older than them.
The arrests mark the end of a strange legal saga that began in the idyllic farm country of Lancaster County more than a decade ago when the Stoltzfus left the Amish Church to become born-again Christians and faced what they claimed was a campaign of harassment from local church officials.
Court records show that the couple had a business relationship with Kaplan going back to 2003, when they were allegedly confronted by members of the Amish Society of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, about the size of their operation and their relationship with Kaplan—who is not Amish.
The couple claimed in a string of lawsuits that Amish leaders instructed other church members to stop doing business with Mr. Stoltzfus, who owned a metal fabrication business. By 2005 creditors began foreclosure proceedings against the couple’s Lancaster property. The property, which was appraised at more than $1 million, was eventually sold in a sheriff’s sale for a fraction of that price.
In March 2009 the couple and their 12 children—including a newborn infant—were evicted by sheriff’s deputies and the Stoltzfus filed their final lawsuit in federal court in Philadelphia. Among other things they accused the Amish Church of racketeering—alleging that it had conspired with a faith-based financier, their insurance company, and a local law firm to ruin their business and drive them into bankruptcy.
According to their complaint, Amish leaders told the Pennsylvania State Police that Mr. Stoltzfus was holding his wife captive against her will and filed a report of child neglect with child services. The charges were determined to be unfounded.
The case was detailed in several stories in the local Lancaster press in 2009.
Calls to several lawyers involved in the proceedings went unanswered.
As night fell on Friday a Lower Southampton Township Police vehicle sat in the driveway of Kaplan’s two-story home, where he has lived for more than two decades. The house is surrounded by high fencing and tall weeds, obscuring the view from the street and neighboring properties.
Kaplan’s neighbors described him as reclusive and sometimes volatile. Anthony Zampirri, who has lived next door to Kaplan for years, called him “tough to get along with” and extremely private.
“Nobody really liked him, nobody got along with him,” he told The Daily Beast. “There was a fire at his house once and he refused to let the fire department in to inspect it. He was aggressive and they had to finally handcuff him so they could get in.”
Zampirri said Kaplan had a wife who lived with him at one point, but he has not seen her for some time. He said he sometimes saw as many as four girls, dressed in Amish clothes, in the window of the Kaplan home. In 2013, after news broke of the Ariel Castro kidnapping case in Cleveland, he became suspicious of his neighbor and filed a report at the Lower Southampton Police Department, which is just a seven minute drive from the Kaplan house.
“I did what I had to do,” he said. “I assume they followed up, but I guess nothing came of it. I feel bad for the girls. If only they had caught him back then.”
The Daily Beast was unable to independently verify Zampirri’s report. A police officer on duty at Lower Southampton Police headquarters said he had no information about any previous trouble at the house, and referred The Daily Beast to the department’s Right-to-Know officer, who would not be available until Monday.
Other neighbors described unusual encounters with Kaplan and the girls who lived with him. A neighbor who would only give her name as Barbara said she hardly ever saw Kaplan and only spoke to him once, years ago, in the street in front of her house.
“He was strange, I remember him talking a lot about religion, I didn’t really get a good feeling about him,” she said. “But it was shocking to learn that he had that many kids in there. I’m just glad they got him.”
Joe Simtox—who works at a pizza shop near Kaplan’s home and lives around the corner from him—said he saw girls dressed in Amish garb several times playing in front of the house.
“My sisters tried to play with them a couple of times when they saw them outside and they were just quiet and standoffish,” said Simtox. “They knocked on the door a few times to see if the girls could come out and play but no one ever answered.”
All three defendants are scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 2 for preliminary hearings.