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Zeller found guilty on two grand larceny counts

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CANTON — The Norfolk woman accused of scamming a Potsdam woman out of more than $3,000 was found guilty on two counts of third-degree grand larceny Tuesday in St. Lawrence County Court.

A jury of nine women and three men returned the guilty verdict against Bobbie Jo Zeller, 37, of 72 W. Main St., in a trial that began April 3. Jury deliberations began Monday.

Ms. Zeller was accused of using false pretenses to steal money from Gloria J. Dietze.

Ms. Dietze told the court that her brother, Robert L. Dietze, introduced her to Ms. Zeller in 2011. At first, Mr. Dietze, who had met Ms. Zeller on the Internet, asked his sister for money to pass along to Ms. Zeller. Once Ms. Dietze met Ms. Zeller for herself, she began making cash payments herself, sometimes neglecting her own bills to help the Norfolk woman, according to her testimony. She said she was living on Social Security Insurance at the time.

Ms. Dietze said she believed the money was going to help Ms. Zeller’s diabetic son. She said Ms. Zeller promised to pay back double what she borrowed, saying she expected a $174,000 payment from St. Lawrence County.

Jury forewoman Heather L. Owens said all but two of the 12 jurors had decided on a guilty verdict from the time deliberations began. One juror agreed shortly after deliberations began, but another needed more information.

“We believed right off that she was guilty but for one juror there was no gray area,” Ms. Owens said.

The jury sent several notes to County Judge Jerome J. Richards requesting read-backs of testimony and asking questions about proof regarding the amounts of money Ms. Dietze withdrew from her bank account for Ms. Zeller. Ms. Owens said that was to help get the facts straight for the juror who prolonged the deliberations.

“We looked at the check register, and it was all in there. She had no reason to lie about it,” Ms. Owens said of Ms. Dietze’s testimony. “I can see myself trying to help someone out if they had a sick son. It looked like she had been taken for a ride.”

On Wednesday, Ms. Dietze threw copies of her financial records in the air and left the courtroom in tears following questioning by Special Prosecutor Nicole M. Duve. On Friday, Ms. Zeller’s attorney, Brian D. Pilatzke, sought a mistrial and told Judge Richards that Ms. Dietze’s behavior could taint the jury’s deliberations.

Judge Richards denied the request for a mistrial. Ms. Owens said the jurors never considered the incident during deliberations.

One of the big turning points in the trial for the jury, Ms. Owens said, was the testimony of Ms. Zeller’ mother, Darlene LaRose, who testified that her daughter grossly exaggerated her son’s medical condition.

“I’m OK with my decision, and 11 of us were firm that she was guilty going in,” Ms. Owens said.

Mr. Pilatzke declined to comment on the jury’s decision.

Ms. Duve said she credited the testimony of her witnesses for helping disprove the stories of Ms. Zeller’s alleged hardships.

“They were very compelling, and was an important part of the case,” Ms. Duve said. “I’m very pleased with the jury’s verdict. It’s clear that they put a lot of thought into it.”

Ms. Duve also is preparing to prosecute Ms. Zeller in a separate trial for charges of two counts of second-degree grand larceny, two counts of third-degree grand larceny and one count of first-degree scheme to defraud.

The charges stem from allegations that Ms. Zeller used false pretenses to steal more than $300,000 from the late Rev. Monsignor Robert L. Lawler, St. Mary’s Catholic Church parishioner June H. McQueeney, of Waddington, and others from fall 2010 to January 2013.

That trial is pending Ms. Duve’s appeal of Judge Richards’s Sept. 24 dismissal of three counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument that were brought against Ms. Zeller based on a lack of legally sufficient evidence.

Following the jury’s verdict Tuesday, Ms. Duve said that the two cases are “very different” and she was unable to determine if the guilty verdict lodged against Ms. Zeller on Tuesday was indicative of what is to come in the trial to follow.

“It will be judged on its own merits,” Ms. Duve said. “They are very different cases with different sets of evidence.”

As a second-felony offender, Ms. Zeller faces a minimum of 2 to 3 years and a maximum of 4 to 7 years in prison.

Sentencing has been scheduled for May 19. Ms. Zeller was returned to St. Lawrence County jail without bail.

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