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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, the woman accused of bilking more than $300,000 out of a Waddington priest and his parishoners.

The couple realized they, too, may have fallen for a bogus hard-luck story that cost them money, so they contacted state police.

State police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Investigator Peter T. Kraengel took a deposition from Mrs. Larue Monday morning.

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, Mrs. Larue recalled getting a call from a stranger in the summer of 2009.

“The person calling identified herself as Bobbie Jo Zeller, and she was sobbing,” she said.

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

“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 to the hotel alone to meet this young woman, so I accompanied him.”

Zeller tearfully told Rev. Larue she had just been released from jail, and she did not know what she was going to do because she had no money.

“She said the last time she had a meal was two or three days ago,” Mrs. Larue told police.

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

“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.”

Mrs. Larue said they felt like a friendship was developing.

“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.”

Mr. and Mrs. Larue again heard from Zeller later that winter, when she arrived with a friend, called “Rayann,” to ask about church services. She and her friend were at the couple’s church the next Sunday.

Several weeks later, Zeller told them she had been “wearing a wire” when she and Rayann were at their house.

“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 she nor her husband had given Zeller any money since their initial meeting.

That however, was about to change. Several months later, the phone rang.

“She said she needed a place to stay because her boyfriend had thrown her out of the place they shared in Massena,” Mrs. Larue said. “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 asked to borrow $350.

“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.”

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 now 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 said 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 unfrozen. 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 for help buying school clothes for her son. Mrs. Larue allowed her to charge $125 to $136 on her credit card.

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 jail, Canton.

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