The Baltimore Sun - June 11, 2010
Police stymied in probing injuries to teen
Pikesville house linked to suspected cult
By Brent Jones | The Baltimore Sun
Baltimore County police say they've been stymied in investigating injuries to a teenage girl at a Pikesville house that is owned by a suspected religious cult leader from Wisconsin. The 18-year-old is not providing many details about the Tuesday incident that has left her hospitalized, and neither are witnesses, according to police.
That doesn't surprise some people familiar with the Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology, whose leader owns the house where the incident occurred.
The victim and witnesses are likely doing what they are told by their leader, according to a former group member and a man who has studied and testified on cults. Leader Avraham Cohen, also known as Rama Behara and R.C. Samanta Roy, has unquestioned authority over the 150-member nonprofit organization, they said yesterday.
Police were called to a Pikesville neighborhood about 10 p.m. Tuesday and found the victim suffering from injuries consistent with an assault. She was taken to an area hospital and is in serious condition, according to police. Her name has not been released by police, but former SIST members say she is Carmella Goldstein and was raised by her parents within the organization.
Investigators immediately brought in someone for questioning, but he was released and not charged. Police are unsure how many others were in the house, in the 3700 block of Michelle Way, at the time of the incident. County police and federal authorities formed an overnight barricade around the home, only to find it empty when they entered Wednesday morning.
"The witnesses are not very cooperative with police. At this point, we don't know if she was actually assaulted or if this was some type of accident around the house," said Lt. Robert McCullough, a county police spokesman. "We have to put our case together."
Police do not believe Cohen was at the house when the teen was injured, police said.
News reports about Cohen have described his organization in rural Shawano, Wis., as a religious cult. But SIST has maintained that it is simply a spiritual and educational organization. A lawyer who has served as a SIST spokesman would not comment Thursday on the Pikesville incident.
Cohen's connection to Maryland goes back about a decade when one of his children moved to the state. That is why he purchased the Pikesville property, according to Nancy Ritland, who spent 32 years in the organization. The property is now assessed at $678,000, according to state records.
SIST was started as a small, nondenominational Christian church in the mid-1970s, said Ritland, who raised three children within the group before leaving in 2007. Ritland said her children have remained, and she's had no contact with them since.
Ritland said SIST members endure psychological — and in some cases, physical — abuse. She said Cohen has bought up property worth millions of dollars in Wisconsin and Maryland largely from the offerings of his followers.
Indoctrination begins at birth, said Ritland, who now lives in Minnesota. Members must home-school their children, instructing them that if they do not follow Cohen's commands, they will go to hell, she said.
"You can't imagine what is going on in there. He's put people through sure hell," said Ritland, 55.
Although former SIST members have accused group leaders of abuse, according to news reports, no one has been arrested and the group has generally avoided legal troubles.
But financially, the organization has struggled. Cohen's group sought to reorganize under federal bankruptcy protection last year and has failed for the past few years to pay taxes on some of its downtown Shawano properties, according to court records and media accounts. The group owns several commercial properties in the city, some of which are leased to other businesses.
Among the debts listed in the bankruptcy filing, SIST owed the town of Shawano about $73,000 from personal and property taxes, room taxes and interest on the unpaid debt, according to local newspaper The Shawano Leader. Shawano County was owed nearly a half-million dollars in taxes on properties owned by SIST and its subsidiaries. SIST paid off much of the debt this year, according to news reports.
SIST was also in the news in 2008, when the FBI investigated an alleged "hit list" naming 60 people who had been critical of the organization. No charges were filed.
Rick Ross has studied cults in the United States for 30 years and has testified as an expert witness in 13 states. Ross is familiar with SIST — his name was reported to be on the alleged hit list — and said the victim in the Pikesville incident will not say anything that might harm the group or Cohen.
"She doesn't want to bring any further scrutiny," Ross said. "And with my experience with this group, people will say whatever they need to say to protect [Cohen]. If she were to say something that displeased them, she could pay a price and be put out of the group and completely estranged from her family."
Attempts to reach Cohen were unsuccessful. Alan Eisenberg, who has represented SIST in court and spoke on behalf of Cohen, hung up when contacted by a reporter. Eisenberg has previously denied allegations that SIST is a cult and that a hit list existed.
According to a website in support of the group, SIST's goal is to establish a world-class educational institute in the Shawano area.
SIST owns several gas stations, hotels, apartment buildings and small grocery stores in the town, which is about 38 miles northwest of Green Bay and has about 10,000 residents.
Members of SIST mostly stay to themselves, says Ritland. She lived for three years at Cohen's "ranch-style compound" before he arranged a marriage for her in the early 1980s, she said.
She said Cohen's organization frequently arranges marriages between members who might not have even met. Ritland joined when she was 17, disavowing the family that raised her.
Life revolves around the needs of SIST's leader, Ritland said, adding that members would devote nearly their entire paycheck to the organization. Her husband, Steve, who left SIST eight years ago, worked as a computer executive and estimates giving about $1 million worth of earnings to the group, keeping only enough to feed his former wife and eight kids from a previous marriage.
Nancy Ritland said she and her husband married in 2008 after she left SIST, but they had known each other since the 1970s.
"Rama gives directions and you're supposed to follow them like a robot," Nancy Ritland said.
Ritland's account falls in line with research by Ross, who said he has flown to Minnesota and Wisconsin to interview dozens of former members.
"The group has a very troubled history, mostly that [Cohen] is extremely authoritarian, completely dominating his members and followers," Ross said. "It's caused family estrangements. Devotees will not communicate with family members outside of the group. … They're very extreme and intensely devoted to the leader. They have a long history of putting his welfare above everything."
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Chicago Tribune - Associated Press June 10, 2010
Assault probed at home linked to religious group
By BEN NUCKOLS | AP writer
An 18-year-old woman suffered numerous injuries at a suburban Baltimore home owned by the founder of an organization that's been described as a religious cult, but the woman and her associates have not been forthcoming about what happened, police said Thursday.
Officers were called Tuesday night to the home in Pikesville and found the injured woman, said Lt. Rob McCullough, a Baltimore County police spokesman. Police are investigating the incident as a possible assault, he said. At least two other people were with her, and police spoke to one person of interest. However, no arrests have been made.
The woman remained hospitalized Thursday in serious but stable condition, McCullough said. Police don't know how she was injured.
"The victim and the other persons involved in this case haven't been very cooperative because they're anti-government," McCullough said. "We've gotten conflicting information from them throughout this investigation. We don't know at this point whether she was assaulted or whether there was some type of accident."
Because officers weren't certain Tuesday night whether a suspect was inside the home, a SWAT team surrounded it for about 12 hours while police got a search warrant. The SWAT team entered the home late Wednesday morning, and no one was inside, McCullough said.
The home is owned by Avraham Cohen, property records show. He changed his name in 2007 from R.C. Samanta Roy, according to Maryland court records, and also has been known as Rama Behera. A native of India, Cohen is the founder of a religious organization based in Shawano, Wis., known as the Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology, or SIST.
A website linked to the group describes SIST as a nonprofit with the goal of establishing an educational center. But former members have described the group as a cult.
Cohen is not believed to have been involved in the incident at the Pikesville home, McCullough said.
A message left Thursday with an answering service for SIST was not immediately returned.
SIST owns several businesses in Shawano and has clashed with local leaders. In 2008, the FBI warned of a threat against dozens of people, including the mayor and other government officials. Local police said a person linked to SIST was believed responsible for the threat.
The FBI ended its investigation about a year later, and no charges were filed.
Rick Ross, who has studied cults for nearly 30 years and counsels former cult members, said he was told by the FBI that his name was on SIST's "hit list." He has communicated with more than a dozen former SIST members who described Cohen as an authoritarian leader who separated people from their families. Children born into the group endured "harsh corporal punishment and parental neglect," Ross said.
"The demands of Samanta Roy were extreme. They were extreme in the sense that people sacrificed the welfare of their family and gave their labor to the group to create the group's assets," Ross said. Such practices, he said, are "not uncommon in groups called cults."
Last year, SIST filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Del. In an affidavit to support the filing, SIST CEO Naomi Isaacson wrote that the group's businesses had suffered as a result of "intentional business interference, organized negative publicity, and the general economic downturn in the United States."
Isaacson could not be located for comment.
Court documents filed in Wisconsin in 2007 indicated that Cohen had pledged $500,000 to the Yeshivat Rambam school, an Orthodox Jewish school in Baltimore, the Shawano Leader reported. Cohen represented himself as a Jewish neurosurgeon of Indian descent, according to the documents.
Rabbi Hershel Lutch, the school's executive director, declined to comment Thursday on the school's dealings with Cohen or whether it had accepted the gift.
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ABC News - June 15, 2010
Investigation into 'cult' assault complete; ruled accident
By: Brian Kuebler
PIKESVILLE, Md. - Listening to the 911 call, you can tell even from the beginning, it is clear something just isn't right.
The caller inside 3716 Michelle Way tells the dispatcher there is an emergency, but as the dispatcher tries to gather more information, the caller hangs up.
When the dispatcher calls back he gets a busy signal followed by voicemail.
When medics made it to the scene they found 18 year old Carmella Goldstein laying on a piece of plywood.
She was transported to Sinai Hospital where doctors say she suffered a broken pupil, a punctured lung, fractured ribs, a torn cervix, broken pelvis and a fractured leg.
Doctors didn't think Goldstein would make it through surgery but she did and now remains in critical condition.
But how this all happened is the source of much confusion.
According to the police report witnesses at the house were not cooperative, one never bothered to even come outside which helped lead to the barricade situation last Wednesday.
According to the report, eventually witnesses started to tell the same story...saying Goldstein's injuries were the result of a fall off a one foot tall trailer.
Police would later discover the victim was helping to move a slab of granite and it fell on her causing the injuries.
Severe injuries both the victim and witnesses insist were an accident; a story investigators have few other options but to believe
"That's the best that we can tell from the evidence and witness statements and everything we have at this time. At this point our investigation has been concluded," said Baltimore County Lt. Robert McCullough.
Back at the house on Michelle Way, it remains quiet. The damaged windows from the barricade now boarded up adding more mystery for neighbors about exactly what goes on and just who lives inside 3716 Michelle Way.
While county police have finished their investigation, the FBI's probe into this group remains open.
The house is registered to Avraham Cohen, the known leader of a religious organization called S.I.S.T. that is thought by some to be cult-like.
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Washington Post - Associated Press June 16, 2010
No charges in case linked to alleged cult
By Mike McPhate
No charges will be filed in a bizarre happening at the home of a suspected religious cult leader that left an 18-year-old woman with life-threatening injuries, Baltimore County police said Tuesday.
Police have concluded that Carmella Goldstein was hurt when a slab of granite fell on top of her, according to a police report obtained by The Associated Press. She suffered a punctured lung and a broken leg, pelvis and ribs, and traumatic injuries to an eye and her genital area, according to the report.
She was injured outside a home in the Baltimore suburb of Pikesville that's owned by Avraham Cohen, founder of the Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology in Shawano, Wis.
Former members have described Cohen's organization, known as SIST, as a religious cult, saying he wields absolute authority over his followers. Cohen, 70, a native of India, changed his name in 2007 from R.C. Samanta Roy and is also known as Rama Behera.
Goldstein and her associates told police it was accidental, and police don't have evidence to contradict those claims, police spokesman Lt. Rob McCullough told AP. However, the police report indicates that one of Goldstein's associates lied to police about how she was injured, saying she had fallen from a trailer a foot off the ground.
Goldstein remains hospitalized in critical condition, McCullough said.
A website linked to SIST describes it as a nonprofit with the goal of establishing an educational center. SIST owns several businesses in Shawano, and the FBI investigated an alleged “hit list” linked to the group that included the names of dozens of local leaders, including the mayor. SIST filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year.
Richard J. Wolf, an FBI spokesman in Baltimore, confirmed Tuesday evening that the FBI was again investigating the group. He declined to elaborate.
Goldstein was lying in the driveway of the home on a piece of plywood when officers arrived on the evening of June 8, according to the police report. Two women were standing near her, one of whom was later identified as Rivka Roy, 43, the group leader's daughter and a physician.
Roy rode in an ambulance with Goldstein to a hospital and did not say a word the entire time, according to the report. She provided police with Goldstein's name and date of birth and said Goldstein's family lived in Michigan or Ohio, but didn't disclose any further details despite repeated questioning, according to the report. She “became very agitated” and asked repeatedly to speak to a lawyer despite being told she was not under suspicion, the report says.
When officers arrived, they observed someone inside the home and knocked on the door repeatedly, according to the report. About an hour later, a man identified as Manasseh Goldberger emerged, saying he had been afraid to talk to police. He had scratches on his body and was walking with a limp, the report says, and he told police that he and Goldstein were loading items onto a trailer when she fell face-first from a landing one foot off the ground.
The broken slab of granite was found behind the home, covered in blood and surrounded by blood-soaked paper towels, according to the report. A trail of blood was observed between the granite and the spot where Goldstein was found.
Goldberger went back inside the house and remained there for several hours while a SWAT team surrounded it, the report says. After he emerged, he was taken into custody, and he “kept to his original story” about Goldstein falling off the trailer, the report says.
Goldstein underwent surgery, and police interviewed her after she regained consciousness. She confirmed that she had been injured by the slab of granite, calling it an accident. She said she and Goldberger were working on renovations to the home and were moving several pieces of granite when one fell on top of her, the report says.
Roy and Goldberger were released without charges being filed.
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