A family feud that has pitted the adult children of a biotech company founder against their sister reached one resounding resolution in court this week.
A Sarpy County district judge awarded more than $720 million to the estate of Wayne Ryan, founder of Streck Laboratories, an Omaha-area business that has dozens of patents in its manufacturing of medical diagnostic products.
Judge Nathan Cox said the business, now led by Ryan’s daughter Connie, grossly undervalued its net worth and, thus, the amount that Wayne Ryan was entitled to for his share of the business. His order calls for Streck to pay Wayne Ryan’s estate $467 million, plus more than $253 million in interest.
Ryan, a longtime Omaha-area scientist, businessman and philanthropist, died in 2017.
“This is a victory for my father, a bittersweet victory because he is not here to know that a court understood what he had gone through,” said daughter Carol Ryan, a trustee of her father’s estate. “The Court recognized that the value in Streck was my dad, his technology, his key customer relationships and his hard work.”
An appeal is expected. Streck and its CEO, Connie Ryan, issued a statement Thursday saying, “Based on the law and the evidence that was presented ... Streck respectfully disagrees with the fair value placed on the shares held by (Wayne Ryan). Streck intends to pursue all available remedies to challenge the order.”
The statement also says, “Streck remains committed to its over 400 employees located in (La Vista) Sarpy County ... and its global customers.”
Streck has more than 40 patents and more than 20 medical products that are sold around the world.
The entire judgment will go to charitable causes championed by the Ryan Foundation, said Omaha attorney Marnie Jensen, who helped secure the judgment.
Wayne Ryan and his wife, Eileen, were prolific philanthropists, donating millions of dollars to the Catholic Church, Creighton University, New Cassel Retirement Center, St. Augustine Indian Mission in Winnebago, Nebraska, and dozens of other organizations across Omaha and the state.
“I am so fortunate that I had the opportunity to get to know Dr. Ryan — he was a brilliant scientist and person,” Jensen said. “It’s such a shame he wasn’t here to see this outcome and the benefits of what his charity is going to get.”
This lawsuit has been pending since 2014. Connie Ryan took over as CEO in 2013.
In his 74-page order, Cox wrote that Wayne Ryan, the majority shareholder, should have been included in the evaluation of bidders for the company he created.
“It is undisputed that Dr. Ryan founded Streck and developed the technology upon which the company is built,” Cox said. “He was also instrumental in establishing the relationship with Streck’s biggest customer, Sysmex. In sum, Dr. Ryan created Streck’s value.”
And, the judge ruled, that value was much more than Streck and Connie Ryan claimed that it was. Under instructions from the court, experts were told to calculate the company’s value as of October 2014, the time the lawsuit was filed.
A defense expert placed the 2014 value of Streck at $445 million.
Cox called that expert’s valuation “biased” and “inherently unreliable.”
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The judge wrote that Connie Ryan said Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett had offered to buy Streck for $330 million.
About the same time, Carson Wealth evaluated the company and put its worth at $850 million.
Cox ruled that experts for Wayne Ryan’s side gave more sound reasoning for the value they placed on the company. He agreed with an expert who placed the value at $893 million.
The judge also sharply scrutinized Connie Ryan and the board’s failed attempts to arrange a sale. He noted that the company received 10 bids ranging from $387 million to $635 million. Oddly, the judge wrote, Connie Ryan and the team evaluating the bids did not pick the highest bidders as finalists to purchase the company.
At one point, Connie Ryan brought in John Kershaw, an executive of a Japanese company that did the most business with Streck.
“Kershaw talked about (how) the Ryan family was ‘legend’ in Japan,” Cox wrote. “He made an impassioned request to beg Streck’s board of directors to not sell the business.”
Jensen, Wayne Ryan’s attorney, said that impassioned plea was part of Connie Ryan’s attempt to sabotage a sale. In a July 2014 meeting, Wayne Ryan expressed his displeasure with the process, noting that he was the majority shareholder.
“You have nothing to lose,” Wayne Ryan told the board. “I have everything to lose in this decision you’re making.”
Despite that plea, Jensen said, the board did not include Wayne Ryan in the process.
“They excluded Dr. Ryan, the founder, the inventor, the lifeblood of the company,” Jensen said. “I don’t know what Connie Ryan and her team’s intent was. What I can tell you is they doomed the sales process.”
Several other lawsuits have been filed among Ryan family members in recent years. In one federal lawsuit, for example, Connie Ryan sued her sister Carol, brother Steven and Barry Uphoff, a former member of Streck’s board of directors, alleging that the three formed a revenge company to try to damage Streck.
The three deny that — and that lawsuit is pending in federal court.
The band’s getting back together. Omaha fans are making travel plans. And tickets for this reportedly final show are selling out.
The St. Louis Jesuits, the Catholic Church’s Simon and Garfunkel, are reuniting for a fall concert to be held on Sept. 29 at Powell Hall, near Saint Louis University, where they first met almost five decades ago and revolutionized Catholic liturgical music through their folk-rock sounding songs.
Like band reunions, this one has the wistful feel of an era ending. The five men, like their baby boomer and Generation X fan base, have aged. Jesuit seminarians when they met, they are now in their 60s and 70s, and one is 80.
Their balding, graying pates and white beards have replaced youthful 1970s shags and mustaches. Two have left the religious order. All went their separate ways in individual projects long ago. And church music in general has expanded and evolved to include newer artists and compositions and to bring back some of the old chant and Latin traditions.
Still, the buzz about this upcoming concert shows a deep connection between the Grammy-nominated musicians and their fans, especially in Omaha, where two of the Jesuits — the Revs. Roc O’Connor and Bob Dufford — have ties.
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Both attended St. Pius X Catholic School (now St. Pius X/St. Leo) and graduated from Creighton Prep (O’Connor, class of 1967; Dufford, ‘61). Both have served at Creighton University.
Reached in Milwaukee, where he works now, O’Connor, 69, said he’s looking forward to the concert because all five men have been on separate paths for years and this reunion puts them “in a kind of communion together, moving like you do in music, in a direction that is oriented beyond ourselves.”
The St. Louis Jesuits last performed in Omaha in 2009 at the Holland Center. They might be like rock stars to their fans, but they don’t act like them. The men as a group long spurned doing concerts and tours, offering instead music workshops and smaller, spontaneous performances. The music wasn’t about them, they would say.
“They’re all so humble about this; they’d cringe if anyone called them a rock star,” said Tom Kavanaugh, whose late brother, John, was a Jesuit priest and early contributor to the group.
Kavanaugh, based in St. Louis, is co-producing the upcoming show, which will include more than two dozen songs, an 80-member choir with some singers who backed up the Jesuits years ago, and 15 instrumentalists.
Ticket prices start at $15, and proceeds will go to a charity for homeless people with addictions called the Ignatian Spirituality Project. Most of the 2,600-plus seats have already been sold.
Papillion fan Lorry Feldhausen bought two tickets for herself and husband Mark. The pair graduated from Creighton University in 1975, the year the Jesuits’ second album, “Earthen Vessels,” was released. (It went on to sell more than 1 million copies, making it one of the best-selling Catholic music albums of all time.)
The couple was so drawn to the Jesuits’ music that they made Creighton’s campus church, St. John’s, their home parish, despite living about 13 miles away.
“The songs are comforting, inspiring, uplifting, even joyful,” she said. “Those songs put the ‘celebrate’ in the celebration of Mass.”
Lorry’s generation spans two distinct periods in Catholic liturgy. Now 65, Lorry grew up with the old Latin Masses in which the priest faced the altar, congregants were more spectators than participants, and music, if it was offered, was handled through chant and choir. Sometimes people in the pews were invited to sing old hymns, but generally, the experience to her felt detached and formal.
Major reforms in the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1960s, as a result of Vatican II, changed everything. The priest turned around and spoke English, and music became a much more down-to-earth, shared experience. Guitars were introduced. The organ got dialed back.
For her, this was a welcome change, and the gentle, easy-to-sing melodies with scriptural lyrics were like water for a thirsty person.
For me, a generation behind Lorry, the songs of the St. Louis Jesuits were all I knew. We sang their music at every Mass at St. Margaret Mary in Omaha. At home, my ex-nun mother cranked up her Jesuit albums on the weekends. My four siblings and I grew up doing our chores with “Sing to the Mountains,” “Be Not Afraid” and “Seek the Lord” thrumming in the background.
Mom didn’t get the Led (Zeppelin, for you millennials) out in the 1970s because she found what she needed in the Jesuit music: peace and calm, which as I think about it now, probably reflects on her always having young children underfoot. Of course, it was also meaningful.
“It’s quiet, and it’s tender. It’s spiritual,” she told me after unearthing those old Jesuit records. “It’s moving.”
To understand the hold the St. Louis Jesuits have on many older Catholics, it helps to get a window into what old church music was like. It was old. It was formal. It was often in Latin, Hebrew and Greek. Sometimes it was chant, and once in a while, there were devotional hymns with titles like “O Saving Victim Opening Wide.” This could be beautiful, depending on one’s taste, but the style did not encourage much active participation from the pews.
Vatican II sought to change this. Yet the early grassroots music was simplistic. A few chord changes and lyrics about peace, love and brotherhood.
Brother William Woeger, director of the Omaha Archdiocese’s Office of Divine Worship, said these early songs sounded like advertising jingles. The Rev. Mike Joncas, a Minnesota-based composer whose most famous work is “On Eagle’s Wings,” said the songs were easy for guitarists to play but “not sophisticated at all.”
Enter the Jesuits. They were products of their time, reacting to and immersed in the tumult of the 1960s. Folk musicians like Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary were popular. People were fired up about change and protest. The Catholic Church was changing in radical ways, too. Plus, a new English translation of the Bible had come out, and that was based on a prior French translation that helped lend Scripture to songwriting.
This was key to the Jesuit sound. Their songs, Joncas said, were more “musically sophisticated” with more harmonic chord progressions, and their lyrics were “almost entirely biblical.”
“They were, in fact, inviting Catholics to sing the Bible rather than just kind of vague statements about love and friendship and brotherhood and all that stuff,” said Joncas, an artist in residence and research fellow in Catholic studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The men were: Dufford and O’Connor of Omaha; Tim Manion and John Kavanaugh of St. Louis; Dan Schutte of Neenah, Wisconsin; and John Foley of Wichita, Kansas. Foley was a trained musician and had already begun composing church music.
They met on the Saint Louis University campus in 1970 and 1971 when they were in various stages of their Jesuit training and careers. Individual musicians, they began collaborating in St. Louis and then, for one summer in 1974, in earnest in Berkeley, California. The rest of the time, they were teaching or studying or performing other ministries. Music was not their main focus, but they shared the same approach to liturgical music: reverent, expressive and joyful, O’Connor said.
Their music, according to a 2005 America Magazine article, filled a void: Lyrics were well-written and taken from Scripture. Melodies were within reach of a wide public. The overall sound was contemporary and American.
Their first album, which came out in 1974, had 56 songs. It is called “Neither Silver Nor Gold,” and that album is in the Kitty Grace Collection. “Earthen Vessels” was next in 1975 (also in her collection). Over the next decade, the St. Louis Jesuits, as they called themselves, produced three more albums, and individual members, especially Schutte, went on to do other musical projects.
Their music spread not just across America but across denominations. Protestant churches have used it.
Like any band, the men evolved musically and personally. Kavanaugh left the group early to pursue other religious activities. Manion and Schutte left the Jesuits. Foley, Dufford and O’Connor remain priests and are still connected to music but also have focused on other spiritual activities.
Subsequent waves of musicians have come, with the latest drawing from the contemporary Christian or evangelical style with whole rock band sets on the altar.
Not everyone is a fan. Beauty is in the ear of the listener, after all. And church music can be a third-rail issue, dividing congregants over preference.
The Jesuits’ concert is called “Coming Home.” And listening again to those songs, which are not generally sung at my parish, St. Cecilia Cathedral, I felt the strong pull of the familiar. It was like going home.
My literal home still has the old Jesuit record albums. Mom found them in the basement, next to a record player that’s hardly ever used. But she doesn’t need vinyl anymore.
“Alexa!” she commanded. “Play the St. Louis Jesuits.”
And the band played on.
WASHINGTON (AP)— The U.S. government will execute federal death row inmates for the first time since 2003, the Justice Department announced Thursday, bringing back a seldom-used punishment pushed by President Donald Trump and escalating another divisive issue ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Five inmates who have been sentenced to death are scheduled to be executed within six weeks starting in December. By comparison, there have been three executions since the federal death penalty was restored in 1988 and 37 overall from 1927 to 2003.
In 2014, after a botched state execution in Oklahoma, then-President Barack Obama directed the department to review the nation's use of capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs. That review has been completed, the department said, and executions can resume.
In a statement, Attorney
General William Barr said, "We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system."
Barr approved a new procedure for lethal injections that replaces the three-drug cocktail previously used in federal executions with a single drug, pentobarbital. This is similar to the procedure used in several states, including Georgia, Missouri and Texas.
Though there hasn't been a federal execution since 2003, federal courts have continued sentencing defendants to death. There are 61 people on the federal death row, according to Death Row USA, a quarterly report of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The decision to resume carrying out the death penalty is likely to create a flashpoint between the Democratic Party's eventual presidential nominee and Trump in the general election.
Most Democrats oppose capital punishment. This week, former Vice President Joe Biden shifted to call for the elimination of the federal death penalty after years of supporting it. The lone Democratic White House hopeful who has publicly supported preserving capital punishment for certain circumstances is Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who said he would leave it open as an option for major crimes such as terrorism.
By contrast, Trump speaks often about capital punishment and his belief that executions serve as an effective deterrent and appropriate punishment for some crimes.
All five prisoners scheduled to be executed were convicted of killing children.
One of them is Iowa drug kingpin Dustin Lee Honken, who shot and killed five people — two men who planned to testify against him, a mother and her 10-year-old and 6-year-old daughters. Honken, a native of Britt in northern Iowa, was found guilty in 2004.
The federal government would join eight states that have executed inmates or are planning to do so this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Nebraska last carried out the death penalty last August.
This report includes material from the New York Daily News.
WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday approved a two-year budget deal that suspends the debt ceiling and hikes both military and domestic spending.
Rep. Cindy Axne of Iowa joined most of her fellow Democrats in backing the proposal. Most House Republicans opposed it — despite President Donald Trump urging them to vote yes.
The overall tally was 284-149.
Among the Republicans who voted for it were Reps. Don Bacon and Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska.
“While far from perfect, this agreement funds our most urgent national priorities and provides fiscal stability for our growing economy,” Bacon said in a statement after the vote.
House Republicans have seen Trump previously appear to sign off on bipartisan compromises only to backtrack, but Thursday morning, the president sought to make his support crystal clear.
“House Republicans should support the TWO YEAR BUDGET AGREEMENT which greatly helps our Military and our Vets,” Trump tweeted. “I am totally with you!”
House Republicans should support the TWO YEAR BUDGET AGREEMENT which greatly helps our Military and our Vets. I am totally with you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2019
Bacon cited Trump’s backing and said rejecting the deal would mean months of budget uncertainty, the potential for a government shutdown and a weakened national defense.
The Omaha-area congressman also touted provisions in the legislation favored by those seeking abortion restrictions, as well as billions of dollars for more border security.
Critics of the deal characterized it as simply putting off an inevitable reckoning of the country’s mounting debt, with one suggestion to rename the legislation “A Bill to Kick the Can Down the Road.”
Among the Republicans who voted against it were Reps. Adrian Smith of Nebraska and Steve King of Iowa.
“I cannot support a budget which raises spending this much without needed budget reforms,” Smith said in a statement. “By lifting budget caps and raising the debt ceiling without corresponding spending cuts, we only push the problem to a later date without a solution.”
The legislation is expected to pass the Senate next week and be signed by Trump, although that doesn’t mean that everyone in the other chamber is happy with it.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., released a statement condemning the proposal.
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“This deal is bad news: Both parties yet again agreed to spend more money that we don’t have and the swamp just got swampier,” he said. “Like a lot of Republicans, I think we’re under-investing in some key national defense priorities, but I’m a conservative so let’s be honest: If D.C. keeps ignoring basic math and reality, what’s the military going to defend once our kids go bankrupt? Unless Republicans get serious, Speaker Pelosi is going to take us to the cleaners.”
Still, Fortenberry and Bacon stood by the legislation in their own statements.
“The budget process is always difficult and imperfect,” Fortenberry said. “If we didn’t act, we risked a future government shutdown, a worse deal in the end, debt and higher expenditures.”
In an interview, Fortenberry said that those complaining about the deficit have a fair point but that rejecting the deal would simply have too many negative consequences.
“I’m being a realist here, and I’m being part of a what is a necessary governing coalition,” he said.
Bacon made similar points while emphasizing the budget stability the deal provides to defense.
“We do have a deficit problem and we don’t seem to have an appetite in Congress really on either side to deal with it,” Bacon said.