Alleged Murder-For-Hire Rattles Small Town

CBS Evening News Exclusive: Placid Midwest Town Turned Upside Down By Alleged Hit List And Secretive Group

CBS Evening News/December 17, 2008

Shawano, Wisconsin - At the annual holiday parade in scenic Shawano, Wisc., for the first time someone was missing this year. The long-time mayor was nowhere in sight. She was afraid for her life, CBS News cheif investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports.

"To have this happen, who would - who would think it?" said Shawano Mayor Lorna Marquardt.

So unthinkable that Marquardt's open-door policy is now officially closed, and she had bulletproof glass installed on her office door.

It's all part of a once-quiet town that's been turned upside down.

"We have weapons in our home now," Marquardt said.

All a reaction to news of an alleged hit list and claims by a so-called hit man, now telling his story for the first time.

"And I said, 'you want me to kill 60 people? You want me to kill the whole town of Shawano?" said Canadian businessman Bob Cameron.

Keteyian asked: "They were hiring you as a hit man?"

"Yes, they were," Cameron said.

"You're talking about the mayor, the city administrator, the city treasurer, the city attorney, the police chief, judges, investigators, fire commissioners," Keteyian asked.

"Uh huh," Cameron assented.

Cameron says in late October he received $175,000 in wire transfers from people known to be part of a secretive group long run out of a house near Shawano called SIST.

Minutes later, Cameron says his fax machine spit out this list of 60 names - with the city's Mayor at No. 1 and at the top of the page the word REDRUM. That's "Murder" spelled backwards.

"And he could get me guns and he had a place to buy them and everything," Cameron said. "And that's when I realized that I was in over my head. And I sent this to the authorities right away."

Sources tell CBS News both the FBI and Royal Canadian Mounted Police consider Cameron's claims about the hit list to be both serious and credible.

For 30-plus years the group now known as SIST has been led by a man once named Rama Behera, now called Dr. Avraham Cohen.

The group says it's an educational non-profit, but over the years news reports, public records and former members have characterized it as a religious cult, a charge a lawyer for the group strongly denied.

"There is not and has never been a cult, anymore than CBS is a cult, although there are people who believe that CBS is a communist organization, which you deny," said Alan Eisenberg, an attorney who represents SIST.

Cameron would appear to be an unlikely choice for a hit man. He said the only reason he got mixed up with SIST was because they owed him more than $100,000 from a business deal three years ago involving high-end go carts.

"I was looking for an opportunity to, you know, get money, my money back from them," Cameron said.

So Cameron claims he played along with key members of the group for a couple months, spinning stories about himself and agreeing to help them find loans, when one day they asked if he could help with their "political problems" with some people in the town.

Keteyian asked: "You're a motor sports owner in Canada. How can you help them with their political problems in Wisconsin?"

"I have an Italian wife, and of course, which means that there were Italian ties, and Italian mafia ties," Cameron said. "So, I advised that I knew people that knew people - you know, that could really help them with that."

Eisenberg calls Cameron's story nothing but fiction.

"This is sheer, unadulterated fantasy. I've never heard anything like this from Mr. Cameron or reported by him," Eisenberg said.

SIST and the city of Shawano have been at odds for years, after the group and some of its members began buying up property in and around town - more than $13 million worth today. But several of their storefronts now sit empty - and thousands of dollars in property taxes remain unpaid.

"I think they may have some financial issues," Marquardt, the mayor, said. "They seem to want to blame the ... city for those things. So I think the more problems that are occurring for them the angrier it seems they become."

Lately some of that anger has boiled over into a series of attacks on the Mayor.

Like this press release issued by SIST that claims Cameron told the group he was a "hired gun" for the Mayor and the FBI "to rob" SIST. And YouTube videos like these decrying the "cult of" Mayor Lorna Marquardt.

Part of what makes folks in Shawano so nervous is what the local sheriff called the unknown, secretive nature of the group. The blue and red tarps draped over the main building, people videotaping those who simply drive down the street. Or, like when a CBS News correspondent, producer and cameraperson were standing on a public street.

In fact, within 15 minutes of Keteyian's arrival, he was confronted downtown.

Two men showing up to videotape our meeting with reporter Mikel Lauber of CBS affiliate WSAW, who has done a series of stories on the group.

A man approached them, asking: "Why are you standing here on this sidewalk?"

"It's a public street," Keteyian replied.

"What, what made you choose this location?" the man asked.

"I chose it because it's a nice shot of Shawano," Keteyian said. "You guys seem really kind of aggressive."

"You're associating with a person that is very, very evil. He's like the minister of propaganda and lies," the man said.

Keteyian asked if the man was referring to the local reporter, who had repeatedly reported on the group.

"Yes," the man said.

In an interview with Eisenberg, Keteyian asked: "Are there any people in Shawano who are afraid of SIST?"

"There are people in Shawano who are afraid of CBS. That's my answer. Nobody from SIST has been accused: nobody from SIST has been questioned; nobody from SIST is being investigated," he said.

But law enforcement sources tell CBS News that the FBI is actively investigating what it calls "a person of interest" within SIST - but no one has been named.

So far no arrests have been made, which only adds to the state of fear felt by so many in the idyllic little town.

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