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

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NORFOLK — State police are looking for a Norfolk woman in connection with a grand larceny case in which investigators said a priest and others were duped into raising more than $250,000 for a supposedly needy person.

Bobbie Jo Zeller, 36, is wanted on 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 alleged scam collected at least $270,000.

“She is being sought in connection with an ongoing course of conduct. Numerous subjects provided her with money under false pretenses,” Ms. Trimboli said. “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.”

Officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg said in February that Monsignor Robert L. Lawler, the former priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Waddington, collected more than $100,000 from friends and parishioners for someone he falsely 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 diocese, said in February. “He thought he was assisting someone, but the reason for need appears to have been false.”

Others were similarly misled and helped contribute money to Ms. Zeller during the past several months, Ms. Trimboli said.

“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 call state police at 769-8406 or 379-0012.

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