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Norfolk woman wanted for bilking priest, others of $270k

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NORFOLK — State police are searching for a Norfolk woman wanted in connection with improperly gaining over a quarter of a million dollars under false pretenses in an effort that was aided by a parish priest in Waddington who felt he was helping a person in dire need of financial assistance.

State police have an arrest warrant for Bobbie Jo Zeller, 36, for multiple counts of third-degree grand larceny, first-degree identity theft, fourth-degree grand larceny and second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument.

Bureau of Criminal Investigation Senior Investigator Judith M. Trimboli, Massena, said the minimum amount collected in the alleged scam is $270,000.

“She is being sought in connection with an on-going course of conduct. Numerous subjects provided her with money under false pretenses. I don’t think we will ever reach every victim in this case. She said she needed money for certain reasons. Those reasons are not accurate,” she said.

The case stemmed from reports a former Waddington priest had solicited tens of thousands of dollars from parishioners and friends in an attempt to assist a woman he was led to believe was destitute.

Officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg said in February Monsignor Robert L. Lawler, the former priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Waddington, collected money for someone he wrongly was led to believe was in dire financial straits.

“Our understanding is Monsignor Lawler was the victim of a scam that went on for a period of time,” the Rev. Kevin J. O’Brien, moderator of the curia for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg, said in February. “He thought he was assisting someone, but the reason for need appears to have been false.”

Investigator Trimboli said all of the money Ms. Zeller collected over the past several months did not go through Monsignor Lawler. “Monsignor Lawler was not the only avenue she went through to obtain money under false pretenses,” she said.

Troopers describe Ms. Zeller as a white female with brown hair and blue eyes. She is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs about 180 pounds. Anyone with information on her whereabouts is asked to contact the state police at 769-8406 or 379-0012.

Zeller has a history of similair arrests.

Massena-based state police had charged Bobbie Jo Zeller, then listing 9289 state Route 56, Apt. 2, Massena, and 70 Main St., Apt. 3, Norfolk, with third-degree grand larceny in June 2010.

That charge alleged Zeller convinced Rae Ann Dunning to write more than 60 checks over a three-month period between November 2008 and January 2009 with the belief that Zeller had deposited money in her account to cover those charges.

“In November and December of 2008, I told Rae Ann Dunning that I was putting money into her checking account and had her write checks for me. I had no intention of putting money into her account and knew the checks would bounce,” Zeller wrote in a statement she provided to police.

She was convicted of first-degree scheming to defraud in St. Lawrence County Court on Jan. 16, 2001 and again on Jan. 13, 2005. She was sentenced to serve two to four years in prison for her felony conviction in 2005.

But she was released from custody in June 2009 after completing six months in the Willard substance abuse treatment program and served the remainder of her sentence under parole supervision.

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