Incident at SIST founder's home investigated: Man questioned in possible assault at Maryland residence

Shawano Leader, Wisconsin/June 10, 2010

Baltimore authorities Wednesday were investigating a possible assault of a young woman at a residence owned by the founder of the Shawano-based Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology, Inc.

The incident began around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to authorities, with an ambulance call at a house in the 3700 block of Michelle Way in Pikesville in Baltimore County, Maryland.

The property is owned by Avraham Cohen, formerly known as R.C. Samanta Roy, who had his name legally changed in Baltimore Circuit Court several years ago.

The ambulance call apparently came from someone at the Cohen house, according to Baltimore County Police.

"When the EMTs got there, they saw the situation and contacted the police," said Baltimore County Police Lt. Robert McCullough.

When police arrived they "found a female who had a multitude of injuries," McCullough said. The 18-year-old woman was transported to the hospital with serious injuries, including internal injuries.

"It appeared to the officers that she had been possibly assaulted," McCullough said. "So they initiated an investigation that culminated in obtaining a search warrant."

Manny Pearlman, who has lived just across the street from the Cohen house for 10 years, said he heard what sounded like two gunshots late Tuesday evening.

Another neighbor who also heard the noise called him, he said, "and mentioned something about some kind of graphite slab or something that had crashed and apparently had injured this 18-year-old."

Pearlman said he looked out again about 15 minutes later as emergency responders and law enforcement began to arrive, including an ambulance, a fire truck and six police cars. He said a SWAT team arrived around 4 a.m. Blue vans also arrived to block the entrance to the street.

"This went on for a long time," Pearlman said. "We couldn't leave the neighborhood."

Pearlman also said a hostage negotiator used a bullhorn to address the Cohen house to encourage whoever was inside to come out, telling them authorities wanted to ensure their safety.

McCullough said police secured the area until a search warrant could be obtained to enter the premises.

"They treated it as a barricade essentially so they could search the residence and clear the residence of anybody in there, because they didn't know who was in there or what the situation was," McCullough said.

McCullough said, however, police were aware of allegations that "the people inside were possible members of an alleged cult."

The group has been labeled a cult by some sources, including the Rick Ross Institute. SIST has denied the allegation. It is registered as a non-profit educational charity, raising money to fund a school in India.

The barricade lasted about 13 hours before police entered the residence late Wednesday morning.

"When they gained entry and searched the residence, they didn't find anyone inside," McCullough said.

McCullough said there was a person of interest being interviewed, but it was not known Wednesday afternoon what part the person may have played in the incident.

"We don't have a suspect at this time," he said. "We have a person of interest who we are questioning that allegedly was there at the time."

McCullough said the person of interest, a male subject, was not Cohen.

"There are a lot of unknowns at this point," McCullough said. "At this point it's an ongoing investigation and we're not completely sure what occurred."

Late in the afternoon, Pearlman said his wife saw someone emerge from the residence.

"My wife went to get the mail at the end of the day and she saw someone crawling out of the house," he said. "She called the police to alert them about it."

Pearlman said authorities wrapped up at the scene and departed by early evening, leaving the neighborhood somewhat unsettled.

"We're a little uncomfortable that there's nobody out there after what's taken place," Pearlman said.

Pearlman said the house has been a constant source of suspicious activity over the past 10 years, including extensive excavation and large gatherings of visitors with out-of-state license plates. He said his concern was exacerbated by an Internet search of news stories regarding Cohen and SIST.

"It's been very difficult to come home at the end of the day and just be concerned about living in a neighborhood," he said.

McCullough said the investigation into Tuesday night's possible assault was an "isolated incident" and was not connected to any other investigations that may be going on involving SIST. He said the search warrant executed at the scene was limited to investigating the assault.

"I can't comment on anything that pertains to the FBI or any other investigation," he said. "All I can say right now is it appears to be an isolated incident."

In November 2009, a yearlong FBI investigation into an alleged hit list targeting 60 Shawano area residents resulted in the U.S. Attorney referring the matter back to the FBI, citing insufficient evidence to merit charges.

Authorities in Shawano said they were made aware Wednesday morning of something happening in Baltimore County regarding the Avraham Cohen property because of the connection to SIST.

"We were made aware of something that had occurred," said Shawano County Sheriff's Department Capt. Tom Tuma, adding the details were "a little fuzzy."

Tuma said there was no local activity in connection with the Baltimore incident.

Shawano Police Chief Ed Whealon said Baltimore authorities also had been in touch with the police department, but there was no local law enforcement connection to the incident.

"It's nothing to do with us at the Shawano Police Department at this point," he said.

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