WADDINGTON - A failure to heed warnings that he and others were maybe being scammed helped lead to the loss of more than $300,000 in an alleged scam that targeted a priest, his parishioners and friends.
According to a statement from the daughter of one of the victims of Bobbie Jo Zellers alleged scam, efforts to prevent her mother and the priest from continuing to give Zeller money fell on deaf ears.
Zeller, 36, of 72 West Main St. Apt. 4, Norfolk, was charged Thursday with three counts of third-degree grand larceny, one count of fourth-degree grand larceny, three counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and one count of first-degree identity theft.
She was arraigned in Ogdensburg City Court before Judge William R. Small and sent to the St. Lawrence County jail, Canton, without bail. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday.
In her Sept 5 statement to police, Patricia M. Cambareri, daughter of June H. McQueeney, said she first became suspicious something was wrong in April 2012.
I started to notice my mom seemed to be very short of money and was lacking food in the house, she said. Whenever Id mention this to my mother she became very defensive.
A quick review of her mothers checkbook revealed several checks made out to cash for amounts ranging from $250 to $600.
While she remained suspicious, it wasnt until Aug. 8, when Thomas Nelson, a trustee at St. Marys Catholic Church, Waddington, reached out to her, and she realized what was going on.
Tom Nelson .... called to advise me that the parish priest, Monsignor Robert Lawler, had been asking other parishioners, outside of mass, for money to help a needy woman from Norfolk. People did give money and then he began asking repeatedly, so, I assume people started to talk. Why couldnt the woman go to Catholic Charities or The Bishops Fund or Social Services? It became fishy and people stopped giving to Monsignor Lawler, she said. Tom knew my mother and Monsignor are very close, and he wanted me to know what was going on.
She discovered that in the month of August alone her mother had given Msgr. Lawler $1,055 with many of the checks having TLC, short for Tender Loving Care, written on the memo line.
Ms. Cambareri said that when confronted, her mother admitted to giving the monsignor money to turn over to Zeller. She said her mother expected to be paid back.
She then reached out to thebishops office. She said Bishop Terry R. LaValley tried to intervene.
He called my mother the same day and asked her not to give Monsignor Lawler any more money, and it was a scam and fraud. My mother assured him she wasnt going to give any more money to Father (Lawler).
Ms. Cambareri also noted that her brother, John McQueeney, had spoken with Msgr. Lawler two days before she spoke with the Bishop.
My brother asked Father to stop asking my mother for money as she didnt have enough money to donate to this woman, she said. Father told my brother my mom would be paid back the following day, and he wouldnt ask her for more money.
Court documents show Mrs. McQueeney gave Msgr. Lawler more money that same week.
Ive since had a few conversations with the bishop about this situation, and he said he has spoken to Msgr. Lawler and told him to stop and he said he would, but it continues, she recalled the bishop telling her. Bishop LaValley also stated he has contacted the St. Lawrence County District Attorneys office and was told theres nothing that could be done, as there is no crime.
Mrs. McQueeney, like Msgr. Lawler, gave two statements to police.
She said it wasnt until late 2012 that she suspected she was being scammed.
During the fall of 2010, I was speaking with Father Lawler and I learned of a woman, who I later found out to be Bobbie Jo Zeller. This woman had a son who was diabetic, and I wanted to help them out because they didnt have much money, she said, adding the monsignor did not ask her for money. Father Lawler did not ask me for money, but I wanted to help them out.
Between November 2010 and January 2011, Mrs. McQueeney said she cashed out a money market account, giving money on seven different occasions that totaled $9,651.18.
Father and I expected Bobbie Jo to pay us back, she said. I assumed that Bobbie Jo would soon have access to money that she could pay us back with.
Despite not being paid back, Mrs. McQueeney continued giving money to Monsignor Lawler for Zeller, all with the impression she would one day be paid back. She estimated that she gave $20,000.
I just know that she told Father Lawler she was in need, and I gave her the money through Father expecting to be paid back, Mrs. McQueeney said. I want to be paid back.
While Mrs. McQueeney realized she was being scammed before the monsignor, her realization didnt come until a visit from her son, Dr. William McQueeney, in December 2012.
It was then that I learned my above Visa credit card, with a credit limit of $7,000, was nearly maxed out. I only bought gas a few times with it. I do not know where all of the charges came from.
Ms. McQueeney says she gave Zeller her credit card number in August 2012.
I dont recall what exactly Bobbie Jo said she needed to pay, but she asked for my credit card account number. In the past, I would lend money to Bobbie Jo in amounts of about a couple hundred dollars at a time. She didnt always say what she needed it for, but led me to believe it was for medicine for her son, she said. Bobbie Jo always promised to pay me back, so when I gave my credit card number to her I never suspected that she would charge more than a couple hundred dollars to it, especially not without asking me first.
Ms. McQueeney said she had an unspoken understanding with Zeller and never once thought that she was being scammed.
I trusted her not to take advantage of me, she said.
Charges to Mrs. McQueeneys credit card included a balance transfer of $5,776.73, charges to Time Warner Cable of $158.40 and $979.29, Progressive Insurance for $380.07, Ticket Master for $522.45, Aarons Furniture for $151.98 and $903, Verizon Wireless for $724.08 and a possible cash advance from Community Bank in Waddington for $400.
Bobbie Jo is the only person who I provided my credit card number to, no one else, she said.
Mrs. McQueeneys statement also includes excuse after excuse from Zeller about why she was never repaid.
Bobbie Jo would tell me the money would be in my checking account on a Monday or a Tuesday, and when she would fail to deposit money in my account on the day she said it would be there, she would say the money will be there on another day. She said this repeatedly and the money was never repaid to me.
Much like the monsignor, Mrs. McQueeney also had a change of heart when giving her second statement to the police.
I wanted Bobbie Jo arrested for tricking me into giving her money and for using my credit card without my permission for the above purchases. I also want full restitution made to me.
Msgr. Lawler and Mrs. McQueeney are not the only alleged victims, although statements from the others were not included in Zellers court file. Included in the approximately $300,000 she is accused of stealing was $30,000 from two Norwood residents, Robert W. Dietze and his sister, Gloria J. Dietze.
Court documents said she met Mr. Dietze through Facebook in June 2011 and later met his sister through him.
She contacted me because she heard I was buying snowmobiles and mopeds, he said. I gave her my number and she called me. She said she had a 2005 moped she was selling for $1,600, and I said I was interested and talked her down to $1,000.
Following that conversation, Mr. Dietze said he went to Zellers home and gave her $1,000 for the moped.
She said that the moped was in storage, and she would have to go get it, he recalled. I trusted her to get it to me, and I have never got the moped.
Still, he gave Zeller money.
Starting in summer of 2011, I began to buy her Green Dot cards at Walmart. These cards are pre-paid debit cards, he said. I began buying her one or two cards a month up until May 2012. Each time I put money on these cards in the amount of $120 to $400.
As was the case with Monsignor Lawler, Mr. Dietze says Zeller was full of stories and reasons why she needed money.
She always had different excuses why she needed these cards, he said. She told me her rent was due, that she needed money for support or she needed medication for her son.
The moped that brought Mr. Dietze and Zeller together also wasnt the first time he attempted to purchase a vehicle from Zeller.
In the summer of 2011, she also told me she was selling her 2002 Ford Explorer truck for $600 and I offered to buy it from her, he said. I gave her the money at her house. She said she still needed to use the truck, and I let her. I never received the truck or the title.
Despite never receiving the truck or moped, Mr. Dietze said he continued giving Zeller money all throughout the summer, fall and winter of 2011.
I wrote checks at several businesses including Sharlows, Waynes Gas Station, Waddington IGA, North Country Oil Change and Paiges Rolling Wheel, he said. I do not know the exact amounts or dates, but I was arrested by the sheriffs department because I didnt have sufficient funds and they have the checks.
Mr. Dietze said Zeller has never paid him back any of the money and noted she always had excuses why.
She has never paid me back any money and had gave me excuses that she received a settlement, but there was a hold on the check by St. Lawrence County. She also said she needed to go to Bank of America in Syracuse to cash it.
Mr. Dietze said he continued giving Zeller money into 2012.
I also paid her electric bill at her apartment in Norfolk for several months in a row, because it was being turned off. I also remember during the winter of 2011 or 2012 Bobbie Jo got in trouble with Aarons rental in Massena, he said. She had to pay them $900 or she was going to get arrested. I went with her to Aarons and gave her the $900.
His sister had also met her and developed what she thought was a friendship with the woman.
She seemed nice and said she had a sick son. She said she was having problems paying her electric bill, car insurance, rent, cable and things like that, Ms. Dietze recalled. She asked me to borrow money and assured me she would pay it back.
According to her statement though, Ms. Dietze was given excuses on several occasions about why she could not pay back the money.
I cant count the number of times she borrowed money from me and would continuously say shed pay me back tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow, Ms. Dietze said. Bobbie said she sued the St. Lawrence County Sheriffs office and was expecting a settlement of $174,000 from them. She never said why she was suing them or what for.
Ms. Dietze also recalled several other excuses Zeller presented.
Sometimes it would be because it was snowing out, or because her son was sick and she had to take him to urgent care, or her sister needed her to baby-sit.
All told, Ms. Dietze said she gave her a little more than $3,000. Ms. Dietze did note, however, Zeller had paid her $47 and bought me a couple packs of cigarettes here and there.
I want Bobbie arrested for having stolen money from me, because it is now evident to me that she never had any intention of paying me back and I have been the victim of a scam perpetrated by her to steal my money.