Lee Kaplan was arrested Thursday morning at his home on the 400 block of Old Street Road in Lower Southampton after an anonymous tip led county child welfare workers and police to his door, Lower Southampton police Lt. John Krimmel said.
Some of the children were hiding in the small house.
“We kept finding more children,” Krimmel said. “It’s just a crazy situation.”
The oldest girl, now 18, told police she was the mother of two of the girls, a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old, Krimmel said.
The teen’s parents, Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus, of Quarryville, Lancaster County, also were arrested after they told police they had “gifted” their daughter to Kaplan four years ago.
Jen Betz, felt ‘something isn’t right’ at the home where a Lee Kaplan allegedly kept a house full of 12 girls.
The 51-year-old is accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl who was gifted to him by Amish parents and fathering two children with an 18-year-old who was also living at the property.
Jen Betz of Feasterville, Pennsylvania, said she called authorities because was concerned about the young girls she saw at the property.
She said the house had boarded windows and high weeds.
‘They’re so sad and fearful every time I see them. That’s what made me call,’ she said Saturday.
‘I’ve been telling my husband for years ‘Something isn’t right, something isn’t right.”
Kaplan faces charges including statutory sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor, and aggravated indecent assault.
Once their farm was saved, Daniel Stoltzfus, now 43, did some internet research and concluded that it was legal to give their daughter to Kaplan, Heckler said.
Savilla Stoltzfus, 42, was at Kaplan’s house when the child-welfare check was made, Heckler said.
The Stoltzfuses “think he’s a wonderful man,” Heckler said.
Some of the girls also said good things about Kaplan, Heckler said, describing them as “brainwashed” by Kaplan.
Kaplan and the 18-year-old were not married, but Heckler said they acted as husband and wife.
The girls apparently did not attend school and it was unclear if they had ever been to a doctor, Heckler said. They did not appear to be in bad health and did not show visible signs of trauma, he said.
Because of an apparent Amish influence on the children, police asked child-welfare workers from Lancaster County who are familiar with Amish culture to interview the children, Krimmel said.
Police were unable to find birth certificates for any of the children and said they did not have Social Security numbers.
Heckler said all of the children are in protective custody and are together.
Kaplan and the Stoltzfuses each are being held on $1 million bail.
Kaplan was charged with two counts of statutory sexual assault and related offenses. Daniel Stoltzfus was charged with criminal conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children. Savilla Stoltzfus was charged with endangering the welfare of children.
The Stoltzfuses were born into the Amish religion, but renounced it amid a years-long fight with community elders, according to a federal lawsuit they filed in 2009 against their former church.
In the 2009 complaint, the Stoltzfuses said they had 11 children and had owned their property on Pumping Station Road in Kirkwood, Lancaster County, since 1997. They operated a metalworking business on the property. The Stoltzfuses suggested that sect leaders, among other things, frowned on them for doing business “with an individual of the Jewish faith named Lee Kaplan,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit was dismissed later that year.
Neighbors on Friday said the arrests brought unprecedented activity to an otherwise quiet neighborhood, with news helicopters overhead and media vans swarming the streets.
Kaplan’s empty house, with a bright-blue door and at least one window boarded up, was guarded by police Friday night.
Jen Betz, 37, a mother of two young children, said she was the neighbor who called a child-welfare hotline about Kaplan. She said she called Bucks County Children and Youth on Wednesday because she was concerned about the girls – some 7 or 8, some young teens – she saw at his house, which she noticed had boarded windows and high weeds.
They all wore blue dresses and had long, unkempt hair, she said.
Trading a child for debts
The eldest child, who is 18, told police that she and Kaplan have a three-year-old and a six-month-old.
District Attorney David Heckler said the parents of the girl Kaplan is accused of assaulting told police they were going to lose their farm until Kaplan ‘came out of the blue and saved them from financial ruin.’
Authorities allege in an affidavit that the girl’s father told an officer he gave his 14-year-old daughter to Kaplan after researching the legality of such an action online.
On Saturday, police and dogs scoured the home’s backyard for evidence. Lt. Ted Krimmel of the Lower Southampton police department said authorities waited until dawn so they would be able to search the property in daylight.
‘We have a search warrant for the entire property,’ he said. ‘There are dogs searching for evidence.’
Krimmel said officials are trying to verify who the parents of the other children found at the home are. The teenager’s parents told police the other nine girls in the house were their children, but no birth certificates or Social Security cards could be located to confirm that, he said.
When police entered the home Thursday, ‘all the children were running around,’ Krimmel said. ‘Some were hiding. They were well-behaved, but scared.’
The oldest girl’s father, Daniel Stoltzfus, is charged with conspiracy of statutory sexual assault and children endangerment.
His wife, Savilla Stoltzfus, is charged with endangering the welfare of a child.
The couple and Kaplan were being held in lieu of $1 million bail. Court documents don’t list attorneys for them.
It was reported that the Stoltzfuses 19-year-old son, John, told the local TV station at the house Friday night that his folks are ‘good parents.’
Heckler said the children apparently did not attend school and it was unclear if they had ever been to a doctor, but they didn’t appear to be in bad health and showed no visible signs of trauma.
Another neighbor, Bob Greenfield, said Kaplan seemed ‘weird’ and he now wishes that he also had called authorities.
‘You knew something was wrong,’ he said. ‘It makes you feel bad. If I had said something a while ago, they would have come earlier.’