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Testimonies in Zeller case continue


CANTON — Testimony by the two major accusers in the case against a Norfolk woman accused of defrauding a priest and his parishioners out of more than $300,000 continued in St. Lawrence County Court on Wednesday.

June H. McQueeney, 81, and Monsignor Robert L. Lawler, 82, both of Waddington, took the stand — Ms. McQueeney for the second day — in the recording of their conditional examination in the potential trial of Bobbie Jo Zeller.

Ms. Zeller, 36, of 72 W. Main St., Apt. 4, faces two counts of second-degree grand larceny, two counts of third-degree grand larceny, three counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and one count of first-degree scheme to defraud.

Ms. McQueeney told St. Lawrence County District Attorney Nicole M. Duvé that along the more than $15,000 in checks that she had written out for Ms. Zeller, she also gave her access to her Visa card through cash advancements and by giving her the card number.

While Ms. McQueeney said in both days of testimony that none of the money was paid back, that story changed when defense attorney Brian D. Pilatzke produced a statement dated Oct. 4, 2012, that Ms. McQueeney made to police.

According to the statement, $1,150 was paid back.

Ms. McQueeney said she wasn’t certain how the money was deposited into her account.

Additional issues involving Ms. McQueeney’s testimony over the checks she had written out to cash for Ms. Zeller surfaced during Mr. Pilatzke’s cross examination.

In a grand jury testimony dated May 5 of this year, Ms. McQueeney said she gave a check made out to cash to Ms. Zeller. After reviewing checks, none were endorsed by Ms. Zeller.

In court Wednesday, Ms. McQueeney said she didn’t remember if she gave the cash to Monsignor Lawler.

When Monsignor Lawler took the stand Wednesday afternoon, he said Ms. Zeller went from financial despondency to becoming a witness in a mysterious, federal court case.

After three and a half years, the priest said he found himself depleted of his retirement and checking accounts and borrowed just under $100,000 from 18 to 20 other parishioners.

Monsignor Lawler said Ms. Zeller always preferred cash, and she showed him how to get money to her through Green Dot prepaid cards that he purchased at Walmart in Ogdensburg. That totaled more than $30,000, according to receipts entered into evidence Wednesday.

Ms. Zeller told the monsignor that she was coming into money through an insurance settlement, though no amount was offered, and a check she said she was receiving from a victim’s assistant fund in the amount of $120,000, he said.

Monsignor Lawler said he saw none of that money. Moreover, Ms. Zeller started saying that she was unable to gain access to that money as she was a witness in court proceedings in both Albany and Washington D.C.

“She kept saying ‘the bureau,’ so I assumed it was the FBI,” Monsignor Lawler said.

On Jan. 8, 2013, when the stories got too wild and the evidence to sparse, Monsignor Lawler said he decided to go to police. That was the last day he said he had contact with Ms. Zeller.

Monsignor Lawler said she must have gotten wind of his decision and contacted him with the promise to pay him back that day. She met him at 11:30 a.m. that morning and gave him three checks for the amounts of $300,000, $6,800 and $25,000 to pay back both him and Ms. McQueeney. Those checks were issued for Jan. 12, 2013. When the priest raised ire about the dates, Ms. Zeller said the bank issued them. At 2 p.m. she returned with the same three checks dated for that day.

Finding the situation questionable, the priest contacted Community Bank in Potsdam and faxed them the checks, which verified them as phony.

“With that, we went to meet with the investigator,” Monsignor Lawler said.

Testimony by Monsignor Lawler was adjourned and will continue Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at the county court house.

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