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Pastor accused of stealing almost $35,000 from northeast North Dakota parish

EDMORE, N.D.—A former pastor faces 10 years in prison after being accused of stealing almost $35,000 from his parish in northeast North Dakota over the past 14 years.

Donald Lee Reynolds, an Edmore resident who was born in 1959, is scheduled to appear at the end of the month in Ramsey County District Court on a Class B felony charge of theft.

A criminal complaint filed in late October alleges he stole $34,668. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Bishop Terry Brandt of the Eastern North Dakota Synod in Fargo confirmed the document refers to funds allegedly stolen from the High Plains Ministry, a congregation of six churches in northeast North Dakota that consolidated in 2004.

Reynolds has been a pastor with the High Plains Ministry since it formed. The ministry that is overseen by Brandt's synod includes Lutheran churches in Edmore, Nekoma, Adams, Lawton, Fairdale and Doyon. The churches joined as they faced declining attendance.

A complaint alleges Reynolds submitted false charges to the parish and received reimbursements for fraudulent purchases from 2004 to 2018.

Reynolds resigned as a High Plains Ministry pastor when he was confronted with the allegations on June 21, Brandt said. The former religious leader also is no longer a pastor for the ELCA.

"Had he not resigned, he would have been removed," Brandt wrote in an email to the Herald.

Reynolds' attorney, Evan Heustis of Devils Lake, also declined to comment on the case. Several numbers that were listed for Reynolds came back as non-working numbers.

The synod and High Plains Ministry is giving its full cooperation to investigators regarding the case, and the parish is working with insurance agents to minimize its financial loss, Brandt wrote. The ELCA has high standards for its pastors, he added.

"Mr. Reynolds violated the trust of his congregation, his colleagues and that of this entire church," Brandt said in his statement. "Though this church proclaims and lives by God's grace, this kind of betrayal has consequences. ... I invite prayers for the High Plains Parish, Mr. Reynold's friends and family, his former colleagues in ministry and even for Mr. Reynolds himself."

Citing, Psalm 34:18, Brandt said, "The psalmist was correct in stating, 'The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.'"

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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