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DeKalb Junction minister, his wife come forward; more charges pending against Zeller

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DEKALB JUNCTION - Johnnie F. Larue and her husband, Rev. James E. Larue, were looking at their newspaper late last week when they saw a familiar name - Bobbie Jo Zeller.

According to New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Investigator Peter T. Kraengel, who took a deposition from Mrs. Larue Monday morning, the now retired minister and his wife, who run an adult home, contacted him on Friday after reading about the case in the newspaper.

While no additional charges have been filed yet, Mr. Kraengel said those charges are likely to include between one and four misdemeanor petit larceny counts.

In the statement, she recalled meeting Zeller for the first time sometime during the summer of 2009.

“I answered the phone at home. At the time the phone number for the church and our home was the same,” she said. “The person calling identified herself as Bobbie Jo Zeller, and she was sobbing.”

Mrs. Larue said Zeller told her she was looking through the phone book and the book “popped open” to the listing of the Church of Christ in DeKalb Junction. She then asked to speak with the minister.

“I handed him the phone and he spoke with her briefly. When my husband hung up the phone, he told me he would have to go meet this Bobbie Jo Zeller at the Cascade Inn,” she recalled. “My husband did not want to go to the hotel alone to meet this young woman, so I accompanied him.”

After finding her room and being invited inside, Mrs. Larue said Zeller proceeded to tell them why she had been and was still crying.

“She invited us in and explained she had just been released from jail. She was sobbing the entire time, and she said she did not know what she was going to do because she had no money and her son was with his dad,” she said. “She said the last time she had a meal was two or three days ago.”

Mrs. Larue also remembered seeing what appeared to be prescription medication bottles strewn across the bed.

“She was the only person in the room, as she explained her son was with his father at the time. She said she did not have any drug problems and didn’t know what to do,” Mrs. Larue said.

Zeller then made another comment about not having anything to eat recently, so Mr. and Mrs. Larue took Zeller to Ponderosa in Potsdam.

“We didn’t feel comfortable leaving Bobbie Jo at the hotel because she appeared to be so upset and emotional,” she said. “Once we got to Ponderosa we talked about church, and she talked about her son. She said she was in jail because she had written a bad check to pay a bill. She said she was the one to write the check, not her husband, because she did not want her husband to go to jail. She said she knew at the time that the check she wrote was no good, but she needed it to pay a bill.”

Despite having told the Larues that she had not eaten for days, Mrs. Larue said from what she remembers Zeller didn’t appear hungry and only ate a “few spoonfuls of food.”

“After the meal we brought Bobbie Jo with us to the Canton-Potsdam Hospital to visit a friend of ours who just had knee surgery,” she said. “Bobbie Jo continued to talk to us constantly from the time we picked her up at the Cascade Inn until we dropped her off.”

It was during that visit that Mrs. Larue said they felt like a friendship was developing.

“Throughout the day my husband and I felt close to her and forged a friendship with Bobbie Jo. I liked her, she is a very likeable person,” she said. “When we dropped her off at the Cascade Inn, my husband gave Bobbie Jo about $20 to help her out. She assured us she would be fine and we left her there.”

That would be the last time Mr. and Mrs. Larue heard from Zeller until later that winter.

“Bobbie Jo arrived unannounced at our home in DeKalb. It was sometime after dinner and she knocked on our door,” she said. “Bobbie Jo was with her friend, whom she introduced as Rayann. I don’t know Rayann’s last name. I don’t know where exactly they know each other from. They said they were just stopping by to see what the church hours were on Sunday, and she wanted to introduce us to Rayann.”

That next Sunday, Mrs. Larue says both Zeller and her friend were at church. Several weeks later they would again hear from Zeller who told them when her and Rayann were at their house she was “wearing a wire.”

“Bobbie Jo was visiting with me and told me that when she came to my husband and me at our home, she had been wearing a wire and working for the police because she and Rayann were on their way to a drug deal in Gouverneur,” Mrs. Larue said, adding that neither her or her husband had given Zeller any money since their initial meeting.

That however, was about to change.

“It was months before we heard from Bobbie Jo again. She called me on the phone and asked if I could come and pick her and (her son) up from the McDonald’s in Massena on Main Street and state Route 37,” she said. “She said she needed a place to stay because her boyfriend had thrown her out of the place they shared in Massena. Bobbie Jo and her son stayed with us for one night and the next day she and I went looking for an apartment.”

Later that summer Zeller would reach out to them and ask them for money for the first time.

“She called and said she needed to borrow $350 for a reason which I do not recall. I lent her the money and after some delay she was able to repay me,” Mrs. Larue said. “I trusted Bobbie Jo, and she had never really given me reason not to.”

Mrs. Larue also said that Bobbie Jo asking them for money was a rare occurrence, although she would often end up receiving money from them by the end of their visits.

“Bobbie Jo does not ask for money usually. She simply describes the situation she is in, which tended to make me feel sorry for her and her son, who is a very sweet boy, and I would just feel like I had to help her out.”

The next time Zeller asked the couple for money was in the spring of 2012.

Bobbie Jo called me on the phone and said she didn’t know how in the world she would come up with about $125 which she needed to help her get a divorce from Chad,” she said. “Bobbie Jo told me how awful Chad was to her, I had never met the man though.”

She then explained that her bank account was frozen. Later that spring, she again contacted them, this time for $250, noting that her accounts were still frozen and she needed more money for the divorce.

“Bobbie Jo said she’d pay me back within the week so the checks I wrote for other bills wouldn’t bounce,” Mrs. Larue said. “She didn’t pay me back. The checks bounced, and she still has not paid me back.”

Several weeks later Mrs. Larue said Zeller contacted them again to tell them she would deposit $1,500 into her checking account, “to pay me back and give me extra money to cover the outstanding checks and for my inconvenience.

“On a Friday she said the money was deposited and would be there by Monday because her accounts were unfroze. I believed she would come through, so I wrote multiple checks in the meantime to pay bills and I sent them out,” she said. “The money she promised never was deposited and the checks I wrote all bounced.”

Zeller again approached the couple in September with a bizarre tale about needing money to purchase school clothes for her son.

“Bobbie Jo said she needed to buy her son some school clothes, but she didn’t know how she was going to buy them. She said she had a new house built and moved everything, including (her son’s) school clothes into it,” Mrs. Larue recalled. “She then sold the house to ‘two gay guys, who won’t let me get (her son’s) school clothes.’ I felt bad for (her son), so I offered Bobbie Jo my JC Penney credit card so she could go to the mall and get some clothes for (her son).

Zeller would then allegedly charge “$125 or $135” on the card, for what Mrs. Larue believed to be school clothes.

“She told me she loved me and said she would pay me back and she still has not,” she said.

Money though wouldn’t be the only thing their “friendship” with Zeller would cost them, Mrs. Larue said, adding there was one more instance where Zeller’s alleged shortfalls would impact their pocketbook.

“In 2011, Bobbie Jo had offered to give us a new couch, as we had ours for more than 30 years. She said she had a trucking service that would deliver the couch and a refrigerator and a stove for us,” she said. “We expected the items to arrive so we gave away our old couch, because we didn’t have room for two couches. The items never did arrive and my husband had to go out and buy a new couch, because we run an adult home and the clients had no place to sit otherwise.”

Mrs. Larue estimated that since she and her husband first met Zeller they lent her roughly $500, which she had promised to pay back to them.

“I want her arrested for stealing this money from me, and I would like my money back,” she said.

To date Zeller, 36, of 72 West Main St., Norfolk, had been charged with three counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, first-degree identity theft, three counts of third-degree grand larceny and one count of fourth-degree grand larceny. She is being held without bail at the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility.

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