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Zeller trial continues Friday following denial of mistrial

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CANTON — Jurors in the trial of Bobbie Jo Zeller could begin deliberations Monday in the case of the Norfolk woman accused of a scam, after a St. Lawrence County judge refused to declare a mistrial.

Judge Jerome J. Richards on Friday denied a motion by Ms. Zeller’s attorney, Brian D. Pilatzke, for a mistrial after the first witness, Gloria J. Dietze, stormed out of the courtroom Wednesday in tears.

Ms. Zeller, 37, of 72 W. Main St., Norfolk, is charged with two counts of third-degree grand larceny, accused of scamming Ms. Dietze out of more than $3,000. She allegedly told victims she needed the money to care for her ill son.

Jurors heard testimony from Ms. Dietze again Friday, as well as from other witnesses, including Ms. Zeller’s mother, Darlene LaRose, who testified that her daughter grossly exaggerated the medical condition of her diabetic son.

“Have you ever known him to have any kind of diabetic crisis?” special prosecutor Nicole M. Duve asked.

“None that I’m aware of,” Ms. LaRose said, adding that to the best of her knowledge, the boy has never been hospitalized because of the condition.

Under cross-examination by Ms. Zeller’s attorney, Ms. LaRose acknowledged that she has not been very involved with the boy’s care, although she said she has regular contact with her grandson, who now lives across the street from her.

Ms. Dietze’s brother, Robert W. Dietze, told jurors that Ms. Zeller contacted him on Facebook in June 2011, asking him for money that first time.

“Could you describe the relationship?” Ms. Duve asked.

“She needed money, and I loaned it to her,” he said, adding that as this went on for several months he had hoped it could blossom into something more.

“I thought there was going to be a relationship, but that never happened,” he said.

Ms. Duve asked, “Did she you tell you that was a possibility?”

“One time,” he replied.

Estimating that he lent money to Ms. Zeller roughly 30 times, he said he began asking his sister for money to give to Ms. Zeller after he ran out. He said he was never paid back.

Ms. Dietze testified that she gave money to her brother to give to Ms. Zeller, but she said she was never told what the money was for.

“I trusted my brother,” Ms. Dietze said. “My brother and I are very close because he is the only one I have left.”

Mr. Dietze said he was under the impression that Ms. Zeller worked for Hospice, but Mackenzie Shoen, the agency’s financial director, testified that was not the case.

Mr. Dietze also said Ms. Zeller told him she would repay him once she received a settlement from a lawsuit she had filed against the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department. County Attorney Michael Crowe testified that there was no such lawsuit.

Another prosecution witness, Rae Ann Dunning, was allegedly scammed into issuing 65 to 70 bad checks to Ms. Zeller between November 2008 and January 2009 at multiple locations across St. Lawrence County.

Ms. Dunning testified she met Zeller while living in a boarding home in 2008.

“She asked me if she could use my account to process payments for stuff she needed,” Ms. Dunning said. “I wrote checks for her believing she had put money in my account.”

Ms. Dunning said this went on for a couple of months until she received a bank statement that showed she had a negative balance.

“She said she would take care of it,” Ms. Dunning said.

Ms. Duve asked, “Did that happen?” “No,” Ms. Dunning said.

She told jurors she was led to believe she was Ms. Zeller’s best friend.

“She said I was like the sister she never had,” she said. “We were best friends, and I trusted her.”

At the time, Ms. Dunning said, she was living on $333 per month in DSS benefits.

“She wanted to help me out,” Ms. Dunning said of Ms. Zeller on cross-examination. “When she would get money, she would allot money for cigarettes and other things. She knew I had difficulties. We went to mental health together.”

Asked if Ms. Zeller had ever been paid back any money, Ms. Dunning said that she had not.

“To date those accounts are still overdrawn,” she said.

On Wednesday, while Ms. Dietze was on the stand, Ms. Duve had asked her to clarify the story behind an ATM withdrawal made in 2011, prompting Ms. Dietze to throw copies of her financial records in the air and leave the courtroom in tears.

Mr. Pilatzke told Judge Richards that Ms. Dietze’s behavior could taint the jury’s deliberations.

“She said Ms. Zeller knew she stole money and committed the crime,” Mr. Pilatzke said. “I understand the court ordered the jury to disregard the incident, but you can’t unring that bell.”

Judge Richards denied the request for a mistrial, telling the defense attorney that he would be able to question Ms. Dietze further. The judge told the jurors that the case might be ready for them to begin deliberations Monday.

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