Monday, June 27, 2016
Experts: "None of this, in any way, reflects traditional Amish practices"
Posted: Monday, June 20, 2016
Amish men do not wear mustaches. Amish women always wear a headcovering.
Most significantly, Amish parents absolutely do not "gift" away their children.
Experts in Amish culture say that details like those that emerged last week after the arrest of a Lancaster couple accused of "gifting" their then-14-year-old daughter to a Lower Southampton man are proof none of them are active in the strict religious sect that established major settlements in Pennsylvania and the Midwest.
Authorities say the parents "gifted" the child to Lee Kaplan, 51, of Lower Southampton, in return for his assistance in helping them out of "financial ruin," and he then fathered two children by the girl.
"I've never ever heard of that (gifting a child to someone) before in Amish history," said Donald Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, who is internationally recognized for his knowledge of the Amish. "They may still be dressing Amish. I don't know if they still use a horse and buggy or not, but none of this, in any way, reflects traditional Amish practices."
Lower Southampton police have charged the girl's mother with endangering the welfare of a child, her father with conspiracy of statutory sexual assault and child endangerment. Kaplan faces sex crimes charges, including statutory sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault. This news organization is not identifying the couple in an effort to protect the identity of their daughter, who is now 18 and has a 3-year-old and a 6-month old daughter with Kaplan, as well as her nine sisters who also were found in the home.
Removing their then-underage daughter from the protection of the church community and placing her "at the mercy of a worldly man" violates everything the Amish teach about love and family, said Karen Johnson-Weiner, a professor of anthropology at State University of New York, Potsdam, and an expert in Amish family life. "No Amish group would sanction this behavior."
"Certainly 'gifting' one's 14-year-old daughter to anyone, much less a non-Amish man to whom one owes money, is not in any way Amish behavior," Johnson-Weiner added.
The Lancaster couple both were raised in the Amish community, but left the church in 2003 after a falling out with church elders, according to a 2009 federal lawsuit the couple filed. But it appears the couple continued to strongly identify as Amish.
Lower Southampton police said Kaplan told them about two years ago that he also was Amish.
The question arose when officers visited his home on Old Street Road to investigate a complaint from the fire marshal about excessive smoke from an outdoor grill on the slightly more than one-third acre property, according to police sources. Kaplan accused the neighbors of complaining because he was Amish and they didn't like his lifestyle. Police also found a small child, a baby and an older woman, later identified as the mother of the 10 girls. Kaplan told police the woman was the wife of his business partner, and the family would be moving into his Lower Southampton home in phases while their Lancaster home was renovated, the source said.
While police believe the 18-year-old had been living with Kaplan at the Lower Southampton house for the last four years, it remained unclear Monday how long the other nine girls — her sisters — had been there. A source close to the investigation said the children's mother had been living at the home for "quite a while." The couple and their children reportedly moved back and forth between Kaplan's home and a rented farmhouse in Quarryville where a 19-year-old son is living, according to an article on PennLive.com.
Other township officials have visited Kaplan's home in response to nuisance complaints, records dating back to 1991 show.
The township's zoning officer has cited Kaplan for high weeds four times since 2008, most recently in May 2014, according to violation notices. In July 2008, he was cited for violating the township's open burning ordinance, and he was fined in 1991 after police responded to four false alarms on the property, according to records.
State business records show Kaplan registered two businesses located at the Old Street Road property: The Brass Caboose, registered in 1996, and Kaplan Precision Machine Co., which was registered in 2001, according to state records.
No documents filed with Lower Southampton indicate a home-based business operated on the property and if one did operate, it should have been registered with the township, zoning officer Carol Drioli said.
Federal court records detail the financial struggles the Lancaster couple faced after they left the Amish church. They lost their mortgage financing through an Amish-related financial institution and fell behind in payments on their home, which was sold at sheriff's sale in 2007, records show.
The couple filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in November 2008, but the filing was dismissed four months later after they failed to make a payment plan, according to records filed with the U.S. District court in Philadelphia.
In April 2009, the family was forced out of their house, which they continued to live in after the sheriff's sale until all appeals were exhausted. Four months later, the couple sued the Amish church and related organizations for $1 million, alleging it conspired to ruin the husband's business and seize his property; the suit was later dismissed.
The husband told a Lancaster newspaper in 2009 that he and his family were shunned by the church after its leaders found out about his business relationship with Kaplan, who is Jewish.
But the allegations in the federal suit do not make sense to Erik Wesner, the founder of AmishAmerica.com. Amish people typically have business dealings with non-Amish people, including Muslims and Jews. The vast majority of Amish customers are not Amish, he added.
Authorities continue to investigate how the couple and Kaplan came to do business together, and why the siblings of the 18-year-old were in Kaplan's home.
Investigators and social workers from Lancaster who are familiar with Amish culture were expected to interview the children Monday. Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services has the children in protective custody and they are living in foster homes in Lancaster.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia