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Woman who allegedly scammed priest for over $270K arrested

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State police picked up Bobbie Jo Zeller, 36, of Norfolk, on an arrest warrant 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 Thursday morning at a motel in Malone.

She was processed at the state police station in Massena and is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday, May 2, in Ogdensburg City Court.

State police have been searching for Ms. Zeller for the past few weeks after police said she reneged on an agreement to turn herself in on the pending charges.

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

“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,” the investigator said two weeks ago.

The investigation initially 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 that Monsignor Robert L. Lawler, the former priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, collected money for someone he wrongly was led to believe was in dire financial straits.

“Monsignor Lawler was not the only avenue she went through to obtain money under false pretenses,” Investigator Trimboli said.

Ms. Zeller has a history of similar arrests. She was convicted in 2001 and 2005 in St. Lawrence County Court of first-degree scheming to defraud. She was sentenced to serve two to four years in prison for her felony conviction in 2005.

Ms. Zeller 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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