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Moorhead stripper gets 90 days in jail for trying to extort Lutheran pastor

Bunny Byington

FARGO -- A Moorhead stripper who blackmailed a pastor was sentenced Monday to three months in jail and 10 years of probation.

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

Prosecutors dropped the other charges as part of a plea deal that Clay County District Court Judge Lisa Borgen followed Monday, despite a concern raised in a presentence 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 on Oct. 28, minus credit for two days she spent in jail after being arrested.

Byington was ordered to pay Ostgarden the $7,000 in hush money he gave her to keep quiet about their relationship and also owes about $5,800 to Clay County Social Services for false welfare claims. She'll have 10 years to pay restitution.

Conditions of her probation require Byington to allow the inspection of her financial dealings and electronic communication and limit her from having any sort of media presence, including Web sites or social networking profiles.

She will get to leave jail for four hours in the morning every day but Sunday to study in her apartment because she's taking online college courses.

Court documents state:

Ostgarden found Byington through a classified ad in The Forum, paying her $100 each time for a half-hour nude dance. He saw her every few months, paying a little extra to touch her and then paying $200 for sex.

In March, Byington told him he no longer had to pay her and to consider their relationship an affair. They saw each other every week until May 14, when the demands began.

By June 5, Ostgarden had paid her $7,000, which he slipped under her apartment door in envelopes. She then insisted he pay her another $18,000.

When Ostgarden said he could not come up with more money, Byington contacted his wife and church officials.

Ostgarden resigned after meeting with his bishop to discuss the situation. Byington had sent the bishop a photograph of Ostgarden lying on a bed wearing underwear and a T-shirt.

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 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.