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Tracy Frank, Published April 16 2009

Ex-criminals speak at ethics series

It took losing their home, nearly all of their possessions and temporarily losing their children for Nick and Carolyn Ryberg to turn their lives around.

The Twin Cities couple served more than a year in prison for defrauding the company for which Nick Ryberg worked out of $1 million through false invoicing.

“As sentencing day came upon us, we were down to 15 boxes to our name. That was it,” Nick Ryberg said.

The Rybergs spoke at Concordia College’s Ethics, Morality and the Law Lecture Series on Wednesday.

Hank Shea, with the University of St. Thomas School of Law in St. Paul, began a program to let criminals tell their stories after he spent 18 years prosecuting white-collar criminals as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Minnesota district.

“There’s a need for punishment … but just locking people up isn’t working,” Shea said.

What started out as a conflict of interest – Nick Ryberg set his wife up, under her maiden name, as a vendor for the company for which he worked – snowballed into fraud.

“This isn’t ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ or anything like that,” Carolyn Ryberg said. “It truly is a misstep process.”

Once they started, they kept inventing excuses to continue, Nick Ryberg said.

“It seems to take on a life of its own at some point, and it’s difficult to back out,” he said.

Nick and Carolyn Ryberg say their time in prison brought them to faith and helped them turn their lives around.

The lecture series is part of Concordia’s effort to prepare young people to be ethical leaders, said Greg Cant, Concordia Business School dean.

“Ethics is something you have to think about, appreciate,” he said. “You’ve got to recognize that there’s an ethical dimension to almost every decision you make.”

About 180 people, mostly students, attended.

“It was better than any ethics class I’ll ever be in because it made it so real,” said Concordia sophomore business major Lance Watrin.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526