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Bunny Byington
Bunny Byington

Moorhead stripper sentenced for blackmailing pastor

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region Park Rapids, 56470

Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

MOORHEAD -- A Moorhead stripper who blackmailed a Lutheran pastor over sex for pay was sentenced Monday to three months in jail and 10 years of probation.

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Bunny Annette Byington, 46, pleaded guilty to coercion Sept. 4, one of the three felony charges she faced in Clay County District Court here for extorting the Rev. Mark Ostgarden, Valley City, N.D.

Ostgarden recently was removed from the clergy roster of the Eastern North Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, by an action of the synod council, effectively ending his career as an ELCA pastor because of his relationship with Byington.

Prosecutors dropped the other charges against Byington as part of a plea deal that Clay County District Court Judge Lisa Borgen followed Monday, despite a concern raised in a pre-sentence report that Byington felt no remorse.

"I'm just hoping you're smart enough to realize what you did was wrong," Borgen told Byington, who declined to say anything in court before sentencing.

She'll begin serving the 90-day jail term Oct. 28, minus credit for two days she spent in jail after being arrested.

Ostgarden resigned last summer from his position in Our Savior's Lutheran in Valley City, and a decision on his status in the larger ELCA was pending a decision by the synod council this fall. The decision to remove him from the clergy roster was announced in the most recent synod newsletter.

Ostgarden had served several ELCA congregations, including in Hatton, N.D., and Valley City for two decades. He has said in recent months that he and his wife have been going to counseling.

Bishop Bill Rindy, head of the synod, said last summer that what Ostgarden admitted doing in regular visits with Byington for sex was unacceptable for a pastor.

Being removed from the synod's clergy roster makes Ostgarden ineligible to be recommended by any ELCA bishop for filling a pulpit.

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