Bethany grad unearths scandal in Wausau

Mankato Free Press, Minnesota/January 12, 2009

He remembers well the day he first stumbled upon what would become the biggest story of his still-young career - full of FBI investigations, hit lists and informants.

Mikel Lauber, a former Bethany Lutheran College communications student and 2005 graduate, got a tip as he sat in his WSAW television newsroom in Wausau, Wisconsin "You're going to want to be at this meeting," the tipster said. It was to be held in a hotel in nearby Shawano. The FBI was leading it.

FBI agents explained that a local religious sect [called S.I.S.T led by Rama Behera (aka R.C. Samanta Roy, Avraham Cohen] - one Lauber already had investigated a few months earlier - was the subject of a criminal investigation. Part of it was a list of 60 people in town. At the top of that list were the words "Red Rum."

An informant alleges it was a hit list of people in town the religious sect said had caused them trouble and that they wanted murdered. The informant, a Canadian businessman named Bob Cameron, went directly to the FBI after being asked to "take care of" the 60 people named on the list.

The meeting started Lauber down a journalistic road that would ultimately land him a regional Emmy Award nomination for his investigative work and the opportunity to work side by side with elite broadcast journalists.

Their stories ran on WSAW, and eventually CBS News in New York became interested.

Investigative reporter Armen Keteyian traveled to Shawano to do his own story, and the footage of how sect members greeted him in downtown Shawano is available on the WSAW Web site.

By the time Lauber got that call about the hit-list meeting, he already had many sources in town and was able to put together a story quickly. He agreed to cooperate with the FBI, though, which wanted him to wait a while before airing the story.

A week later their story was broadcast, and later that night, Cameron called Lauber and told him what he knew.

"We were in contact with him for weeks," Lauber said. "He was afraid for his family."

A few weeks later Cameron agreed to be interviewed on camera, and that's when the story really took off.

His interview, if he's telling the truth, is a blow to the religious sect. It was conducted in New York, and both Lauber and Armen Keteyian spent time questioning him.

The FBI investigation continues today, and Lauber continues to follow the case.

Getting to work with national news correspondents, Lauber said, was a great experience.

"Those are the guys you really look up to. They're at the top of their field," he said. "It was an eye-opening experience, and something I'll never forget. It's something that will inspire me for a long time to come."

And of course, he credits his Bethany training.

"I know this is a field I wouldn't be anywhere near if it wasn't for my education and people I knew at Bethany," he said.

Ironically, Lauber was the kid who, when he came to Bethany's communications program from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, avoided the spotlight.

"I designed my schedule around avoiding being in front of people or public speaking," he said.

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