Sploid, the Gawker Media website that offers “news with a tabloid mentality,” reports (shout-out to tipster Aliya) that the state of Minnesota has fined a religious cult led by a 65-year-old scientist from Orissa for illegally undercutting the price of gasoline.
Midwest Oil is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology. Samanta Roy, and Indian and former Hindu, was once known as Brother Rama Behera. He leads a reclusive religious organization out of Shawano, Wisconsin, preaching a mixture of Christianity and Judaism.
Apparently Midwest was able to sell gasoline below the minimum price (that the state imposes to protect small service stations from large chains that can sell below cost) because its devotee-employees work for free.
An October 2005 story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tells us more about the life and times of Dr. Samanta Roy:
The reclusive 65-year-old immigrant from the historic Orissa state of India has exerted an influence in Shawano, a North Woods gateway town of 8,300 about 40 miles northwest of Green Bay, since the early 1970s. He is rarely seen and almost never heard from outside his cloistered group of adherents, none of whom responded to interview requests. Public records examined for this story reveal no estimates of the group’s size. …
It all began with the purchase of several acres in adjoining Wescott that served as a worship place for the group transplanted from the Twin Cities area. They were commonly called the Disciples of the Lord Jesus and operated in a style described in The Milwaukee Journal at the time as ascetic and critical of mainstream Christianity.
Samanta Roy called himself Brother Rama and had conversations with the prophet Elijah while sitting on the toilet:
“He also said that he spoke directly to Elijah, sometimes when he was in the bathroom,” said Elliott Lane, 50, now of Fresno. Lane was introduced to the group in the 1970s and remained involved until 1996, when he said he left because it became too controlling. “But some people said he was a false prophet.” Whatever the case, “Brother Rama” began hosting gatherings that would last through the weekend at a home on Frailing Road and Highway 47, where he would make predictions about the soon-to-be end of the world, and play an involved role in members’ lives. Group members have testified that this included when and where they could go to the bathroom, whom they could marry and what jobs they could pursue, the emphasis being severing contact with the outside world, according to court records and news accounts.
Eventually, the group got involved in worldy activities after all, particularly of a capitalist nature:
After a period of relative anonymity, the group began making news again in 2000, when it started purchasing local businesses and properties. The fudge shop. A Mexican restaurant. The go-kart track. Two hotels. Three gas stations. Vacant lots on the outskirts of town, unused buildings in the center of the city, properties large and small. All told, the acquisitions were valued in the millions, according to property records.
Things began to get ugly, though:
Amid this expansion came the sensational trial and conviction in 2002 of a group member for the repeated rape of his daughter. Central to the man’s defense was his claim that he had been brainwashed and broken-down during his two decades of involvement with Samanta Roy. Several former members took the stand to allege a ghouls’ gallery of abusive practices in the group.
Now, the gas station penalty has cost the group $140,000. But here’s betting that it will take a lot more to shut down the curious career of Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy, prophet of the northern woods.