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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 believe an area priest may have been misled in efforts to collect more than $250,000 for a needy individual.

Bobbie Jo Zeller, 36, is wanted 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 of a former Waddington priest who had solicited tens of thousands of dollars from parishioners and friends and in 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.

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