The Pennsylvania parents accused of “gifting” some of their nine daughters to a man who allegedly impregnated one of them pleaded guilty to child endangerment Thursday.
Savilla Stoltzfus, 43, pleaded guilty to one count of endangering the welfare of children, a felony of the third degree. Her 44-year-old husband, Daniel Stoltzfus, pleaded no contest to the same charge. The couple could receive sentences of up to seven years in prison and a fine of $15,000.
At the hearing, the Stoltzfuses admitted they were aware that 52-year-old Lee Kaplan, a spiritual advisor figure to the family, was having sex with their eldest daughter when she was a minor. The girl gave birth to two children by Kaplan.
The couple entered their pleas in front of Judge Jeffrey L. Finley, who postponed sentencing until the May 30 trial of Kaplan, who is charged with several sex crimes involving six of the couple’s daughters. The charges include rape of a child, statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and indecent assault.
Prosecutors allege that Kaplan befriended the then-Amish family in Lancaster County in 2003, supported them financially and helped them break free of their Amish way of life. In return, prosecutors allege, Kaplan was “gifted” six of their nine daughters, who were all minors when Kaplan allegedly began abusing them.
“He put money in their pockets to get them out of some financial trouble, and once they saw him as a trusted figure, it was only a matter of time before he was interpreting their dreams and telling them that he was speaking the word of God, and he needed to be listened to,” Savilla’s attorney, Craig Penglase, tells PEOPLE.
The girls were allegedly considered the “wives” of Kaplan, according to an affidavit of probable cause obtained by PEOPLE. One of the alleged victims told police that Kaplan said, “it was in the children’s best interest to become his wives,” the affidavit alleges. “Kaplan would have ‘dreams’ about them becoming his wives and Kaplan stated that this was what God wanted.”
“He argues that yes, he impregnated his wife, but the other allegations” are false, Kaplan’s defense attorney Ryan Hyde tells PEOPLE.
“A child advocate spoke with them and they didn’t make any claims, but when the detective and the district attorney talked to them after they talked to their mom, their stories changed,” Hyde says.
Hyde says Kaplan “invested a lot of time in this family and I don’t think it was an insidious reason that he did that,” adding, “He actually legitimately cares for these people.”
Savilla acknowledged Thursday that it was common for Kaplan to allegedly talk to her and her young daughters about sex and “those conversations helped define a sense of purpose for the women,” according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE. “Kaplan aimed to teach the girls what it meant to be a woman.”
Savilla also alleged she “observed Kaplan taking the girls on his lap, kissing their faces and lips and taking them individually to spend alone time with him in his bed,” according to the documents. “Savilla stated that she had a feeling that her daughters were having sexual relations with Kaplan given the fact that they were spending alone time in his room with him.”
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“Kaplan convinced Savilla that he was God and that this was God’s will,” alleges Penglase. “She didn’t believe it was her place to stop it. She didn’t believe she had a voice to be heard.”
“She’s is not worldly,” Penglase adds. “She is certainly not sophisticated. She got her GED while incarcerated and she has a rudimentary understanding of life but she was obviously an easy target, so she has deficits.”
Penglase adds that Savilla “has to be deprogrammed.”
“I suspect wherever the children are being housed they are being counseled by an anti-cult specialist, because that is essentially what we have here,” he says.
Detectives raided Kaplan’s home in Feasterville in June of 2016 after receiving an anonymous tip, police have said.