While Lee Kaplan lived with 12 girls in his Pennsylvania home, authorities say, he allegedly brainwashed them to believe he was a prophet of God — grooming several of them for sex and calling six of them his “wives.”
Prosecutors this week revealed these and other harrowing details of the girls’ years of alleged mental and sexual abuse, as the investigation of Kaplan continues and he faces multiplying charges.
“This guy set up a virtual feeding ground of victims,” Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub tells PEOPLE. “He preyed upon [the girls] one by one.”
Kaplan, who was charged with sex crimes after police rescued the girls from his home in June, is now accused of not only fathering two children with the eldest of the girls but also sexually abusing five of her younger sisters, Weintraub announced on Monday.
That same day Kaplan pleaded not guilty to more than a dozen new charges, including rape of a child, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and indecent assault, Weintraub says.
“He took these children into his home not too far from where we stand here today,” Weintraub alleged at a news conference. “Over time he played on their trust and affection for him. He groomed them to believed that he was a religious, cult-like figure for whom they should submit their will.”
Weintraub tells PEOPLE that Kaplan allegedly brainwashed the girls, using tactics similar to Stockholm syndrome, by taking advantage of their innocence and abusing his position of authority.
“They [grew] to accept it,” Weintraub says. “I’m saddened. I’m sickened, but I’m not surprised.”
Kaplan, 51, was originally charged with statutory sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor and aggravated indecent assault after authorities rescued the girls, who ranged in age from six months to 18 years old, from his home in Feasterville, Pennsylvania. (Authorities were tipped off anonymously.)
He has pleaded not guilty to those charges as well.
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After Kaplan’s arrest, the eldest of the girls told investigators she was 14 when her parents handed her over to Kaplan after he helped them financially. She told police she and Kaplan have two children together: a 3 year-old girl and a 10-month-old infant.
The eldest girl also said that years before moving into his home, Kaplan had his own bedroom in her parents’ Lancaster County home in Pennsylvania. She alleged that the sexual abuse started one night when she was 10. It didn’t stop until her rescue this summer.
Nine of the 11 other girls living in Kaplan’s home were her sisters, according to authorities; the remaining two were her daughters.
Newly released court documents obtained by PEOPLE show the sisters, who were quiet during initial interviews, recently opened up to investigators about their years of living with Kaplan.
Authorities had been unsure if he had harmed any of the 11 other girls, but six of the sisters, including the eldest, told police they were Kaplan’s “wives,” according to the documents.
The youngest is 10.
The girls said in their interviews that Kaplan claimed he had “dreams” about them becoming his wives. “Kaplan felt it was in the children’s best interests to become his wives,” according to the documents.
The girls’ every day life remains a mystery, Weintraub tells PEOPLE. They were sometimes spotted by neighbors playing in the front yard, dressed in traditional Amish attire, but no one ever saw how they spent their time inside the three-bedroom home.
According to the police interviews, however, multiple girls alleged they were routinely abused.
“They were not only hearing [that the abuse was okay] from him but from their parents,” Weintraub alleges, noting that the girls’ mother, Savilla Stoltzfus, is believed to have been living with her daughters and Kaplan during the abuse.
A ‘Cultural Interpretation Problem’?
The girls’ story gained national attention after authorities announced the couple’s alleged “gifting” of their eldest daughter to Kaplan.
The Stoltzfuses, who have been charged with child endangerment, told authorities their eldest daughter was set to wed Kaplan, a former business partner and family friend. The family lives in an Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
(The father, Daniel Stoltzfus, had been “shunned” by the Amish by the time of his relationship with Kaplan, prosecutors previously told PEOPLE.)
Kaplan’s arrest affidavit alleges the Stoltzfuses “gifted” their daughter to him in exchange for financial benefits, but Savilla’s attorney, Craig Penglase, previously told PEOPLE that the language has been misconstrued.
Penglase compared the agreement the couple had with Kaplan to the common wedding ceremonial tradition of the bride’s father giving his daughter away to the groom.
“That’s what [the Stoltzfuses] meant when they said that to the police,” Penglase said. “It’s an interpretation problem. It’s a cultural interpretation problem.” Both Daniel and Savilla have pleaded not guilty to their charges.
According to Penglase, the couple had no idea their daughter and Kaplan were sexually involved. He said Savilla only learned about her daughter’s alleged sexual abuse by Kaplan when she learned about the pregnancy.
Soon after the baby was born, Savilla moved into Kaplan’s home with her nine other daughters, Penglase told PEOPLE.
Police have said there were a number of complaints regarding Kaplan in the months leading up to his arrest, but nothing warranting an arrest.
Attorneys for Kaplan and the Stoltzfuses could not be reached for comment about the new charges and accusations. (Kaplan’s attorney has previously declined to comment.)
All three defendants were set to appear in court the week of Nov. 7, but their hearings have been postponed, court officials tell PEOPLE.