Savilla Stoltzfus hoped her then 14-year-old daughter would marry Lee Kaplan, 51
The attorney for Savilla Stoltzfus, the Pennsylvania woman charged with endangering the welfare of a child for allegedly “gifting” her then-14-year-old daughter to a man who allegedly impregnated her twice, tells PEOPLE his client had good intentions and that “differences in culture is what this case is about.”
Stoltzfus and her husband, Daniel, who are Amish, promised their daughter’s hand in marriage to Lee Kaplan, 51, Savilla’s attorney, Craig Penglase, tells PEOPLE exclusively.
Of such a practice, Penglase says, “That happens in cultures all over the world.”
Penglase adds, “Everything [Savilla] did she was for her family, and what she did in this case was what she thought was right…. It may have been misguided, it may have been weird to you and me, but that was her belief.”
Kaplan’s arrest affidavit alleges the Stoltzfuses “gifted” their daughter to Kaplan in exchange for financial benefits, but Penglase says that language has been misconstrued. He 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 says. “It’s an interpretation problem. It’s a cultural interpretation problem.”
Kaplan of Feasterville, is charged with sexual assault and related charges. Daniel Stoltzfus faces conspiracy to commit sexual assault and child endangerment. The cases of the Stoltzfuses and Kaplan will all go to trial, a judge ruled at a Tuesday hearing.
The alleged victim, now 18, testified at Tuesday’s hearing that she and her nine sisters lived in Kaplan’s home.
Kaplan was arrested in June after authorities allegedly rescued 12 girls, ranging in age from 6 months to 18 years old, from his home. The Stoltzfus daughter allegedly gifted to Kaplan at 14 is the eldest one. Authorities allege Kaplan had two children with her: a six-month old and a 3-year-old.
Nine of the 12 girls living in the home were sisters of the eldest one; the remaining three were the eldest one herself and her two daughters, authorities allege.
Kaplan is only charged with sex crimes relating to the eldest one, but police are investigating whether Kaplan abused the other girls in the home, Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler previously told PEOPLE.
Lawyer: Teen’s Pregnancy Was a ‘Shock’ to Parents
While Penglase says everyone involved accepted that Kaplan and the teen would eventually get married, Kaplan and the teen’s alleged sexual relationship was not part of the plan.
“They were all on the same page about the direction this relationship was supposed to go,” Penglase tells PEOPLE. “We heard [yesterday] that [the victim’s first child] was a surprise to everybody, [including] both parents.”
Penglase says Savilla only learned about her daughter’s alleged sexual relationship with Kaplan when she learned about the pregnancy.
“Savilla didn’t even know [her daughter] was pregnant, so that was hidden from her until the day she got a phone call to come down and deliver a child,” Penglase tells PEOPLE, adding that it is common in Amish culture to deliver children at home.
After the baby was born, Savilla moved into Kaplan’s home, bringing her nine other daughters with her, Penglase says.
Savilla and her 10 daughters continued to live in Kaplans home even after her eldest daughter gave birth to a second child allegedly fathered by the 51-year-old. Penglase says prosecutors might argue that his client could have removed her eldest daughter from the home after learning of their alleged sexual relationship. But he says the girl and Kaplan were set to wed and appeared to all to be “in a loving, committed relationship.”
Lawyer: Statutory Rape Case Hard to Prove Because Girl’s Age Allegedly Unknown
Penglase tells PEOPLE a sex crime against his client will be hard to prove because the government “has no idea how old the young girl in question actually is.”
“No birth records of her, no birth certificate,” says Penglase. “So in a statutory rape case where age of the victim is the most important factor, the government apparently has no idea how old she is. The only information [they have] is what the child has told them.”
During her half-hour testimony on Tuesday, the teen told the court about her alleged relationship with Kaplan.
“She was honest and as forthright as she could be,” Penglase tells PEOPLE. “She [said she was in] a committed relationship with Mr. Kaplan’ [that] she trusted him then and she trust him now.”
Pengase adds, “It sounded like if she was permitted to return to him she would.”
Heckler and Penglase both said Stoltzfus was Amish but that at the time of his relationship with Kaplan, he had left the Amish community.
Daniel Stoltzfus and Kaplan are being held on $1 million bond while Savilla Stoltzfus is being held on $250,000.
Daniel Stoltzfus’ attorney, Tim Barton, did not return PEOPLE’s calls for comment. Kaplan’s attorney, Ryan Hyde, declined comment to PEOPLE.
None of the three defendants have yet entered pleas.