Authorities searched through the home of a Pennsylvania man accused of sexually assaulting a teenager whose parents allegedly gave her to him when she was 14 because he helped them financially. She was one of a dozen girls living in the residence.
Officials in Bucks County acting on a tip Thursday found Lee Kaplan, 51, at his Feasterville home, along with 12 girls ranging in age from six months to 18 years, police said. One girl, now 18, told police that she and Kaplan have a 3-year-old child and a six-month-old child, according to investigators.
U.S. & World
Stories that affect your life across the U.S. and around the world.
UPDATE: What did authorities do about neighbor's warnings of something wrong at Kaplan's home?
"This child gave birth to two other children through an inappropriate relationship," Lower Southampton Police Lt. John Krimmel said.
Kaplan faces charges including statutory sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor, and aggravated indecent assault.
When police entered Kaplan's home Thursday, "all the children were running around," Lt. Krimmel said. "Some were hiding. They were well-behaved, but scared."
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, officials said.
"They purport to be the parents of all the children, but I don't know if we believe them," Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler said.
Heckler said he could not say how long the children had been at Kaplan's house.[[238427591, C]]
"It will be until into next week before I can stand in front of cameras and say X, Y, Z happened," Heckler said. "We have miles to go."
Lower Southampton police said they did not find any identifying documents for any of the girls.
"We are still investigating that. Bucks County is investigating that along with other agencies to help identify their genealogy and who their parents actually are," Krimmel said.
On Saturday, police and dogs scoured the home's backyard for evidence after officials obtained a search warrant. Krimmel 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."
According to an affidavit, the girl's father told an officer he gave his daughter, who was 14 at the time, to Kaplan after he helped the family out of financial ruin. The father allegedly admitted he gave Kaplan his daughter after researching the legality of such an action online. The father is charged with conspiracy of statutory sexual assault and child endangerment. His wife is charged with endangering the welfare of a child.
The parents, who live in Lancaster County, as well as Kaplan, are all in custody on $1 million bail, police said. It is unclear if any of them have attorneys. NBC10.com is not identifying the parents to protect the identity of the young girls.
Kaplan, 51, lives in the 400 block of Old Street Road in Feasterville, where he and the children were found, according to the complaint. He bought the home, which was built in 1926, back in 1988 according to county real estate records.
Neighbor Jen Bets said she made the tip call to authorities, bringing them to the home.
"It's never the wrong time to do the right thing," Bets told NBC10's Christian Cazares. "There were signs."[[383468571, C]]
"(She was) too young to be the wife, too old to be holding his hand," Bets said. She would often see Kaplan walking down the street with girls, holding hands with one of them.
"It took too long," Bets said of response to the home, which she said she had spoken with neighbors and police in the past about. "I just want them to get help and get back and be happy. They're so sad and fearful every time I see them. That's what made me call."
Robert Hoopes, the Director of Public Safety for Lower Southampton Township, told NBC10 police received several calls over the years about the house from concerned neighbors yet none of them suggested child abuse.
"We didn't get the child abuse calls," he said. "If it was a child abuse call we would've responded naturally."
The police complaint said Kaplan "had told other neighbors that no children live there."
But one nearby resident, Denise Horst, said she saw the girls often.
"I've ridden by this house (and) I've seen young girls, various ages of children, dressed mostly in Amish clothing," Horst said. "Often afraid, like they would once he'd come out of the house, the male would come out, they'd go running into the house."
She said she also saw one of the young girls pregnant.
"I was wondering what was going on," Horst said. "It looked like these girls were scared."
Police say they found homework and instruments in the basement of the home, suggesting that the children were home schooled. 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.
"They were living down in the basement," said Hoopes. "They were hiding in the chicken coop. In the basement there's an elaborate train set up. By elaborate I mean tens of thousands of dollars worth of trains on platforms."
NBC10 discovered that Kaplan made thousands of dollars selling model trains through an eBay business he ran out of his home called "The Brass Caboose."
Authorities say cases of canned food, a chicken coop, garden and a green house at the property also suggested a self-sufficient lifestyle not uncommon to the Amish.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the 18-year-old girl's parents were born into the Amish faith, but renounced it amid a long fight with community elders, according to a federal lawsuit they filed in 2009 against their former church. The lawsuit, which was dismissed later that year, said they operated a metalworking business on their property.
Kaplan and the girl's parents are due in court on June 28th. All 12 of the children are together in protective custody, according to Heckler.