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Zeller pleads not guilty, testimonies begin Tuesday

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CANTON — Bobbie Joe Zeller, the Norfolk woman accused of stealing more than $300,000 from a Waddington priest, pleaded not guilty Monday to eight felony charges at her arraignment in St. Lawrence County Court.

Ms. Zeller, 36, of 72 W. Main St., Apt. 4, faces two counts of second-degree grand larceny, two counts of third-degree grand larceny, three counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and one count of first-degree scheme to defraud.

Two witnesses in the case will be questioned today in a conditional examination.

The questioning of Monsignor Robert L. Lawler and June H. McQueeney, both of Waddington, will be taped, as health issues facing the two may be a factor in their ability to participate in the trial, according to Ms. Zeller’s attorney, Brian D. Pilatzke.

Those recordings will be used in the case of a trial.

Monsignor Lawler has told investigators that Ms. Zeller received more than $300,000 from him and his parish after manipulating them with stories about her desperate need for cash to care for an ailing son.

A St. Lawrence County grand jury indictment against Ms. Zeller alleges that she stole from Monsignor Lawler “by false pretense” and “by false promise” from fall 2010 to January of this year.

The case against Ms. Zeller culminated Jan. 8 with three fake checks she is accused of passing to the priest for $300,000, $25,000 and $6,800, purportedly to pay him back. After years of charity, he became suspicious and contacted a diocesan official, who confirmed the forgeries with the bank.

Additionally, Ms. Zeller is accused of stealing $3,000 from Ms. McQueeney under false pretenses, between fall 2010 and January of this year.

Ms. Zeller previously was held in St. Lawrence County jail without bail. Mr. Pilatzke requested that St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome J. Richards consider releasing her under the supervision of probation.

St. Lawrence County District Attorney Nicole M. Duvé filed an opposition against release in May and continued that recommendation.

Ms. Zeller was sent to jail with bail set at $300,000 cash or $600,000 bond. No date has been set for her reappearance.

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