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Sun., Oct. 4
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Priest regains pension after paying off alleged Zeller debt.


CANTON — The priest who alleged he was swindled by a Norfolk woman of more than $300,000 said he’s finally getting some money of his own during Thursday’s final day of testimony.

Monsignor Robert L. Lawler finished out the last of the three days of recorded conditional examinations that could be used if the case against Bobbie Jo Zeller goes to trial.

Both Monsignor Lawler and June H. McQueeney, the witness who finished her testimony Wednesday, are suffering from health issues that may prevent them from participating in a trial as early as August, Defense Attorney Brian D. Pilatzke said.

Ms. Zeller, 36, of 72 W. Main St., Apt. 4, Norfolk, 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.

During his cross-examination, Mr. Pilatzke asked Monsignor Lawler about his earlier testimony that he scarcely wrote personal checks for cash to himself and when he did, only in small amounts. Normally checks written out to cash were for Ms. Zeller, Monsignor Lawler said.

Mr. Pilatzke referred to several bank statements in which seven checks were made out to cash in amounts ranging from $100 to $350, all written after Jan. 13, 2013, the last date the priest said he helped Ms. Zeller financially.

“For the first time, I had restored my pension because I had pledged my statement to the diocese,” Monsignor Lawler said.

For three months, Monsignor Lawler told Mr. Pilatzke, he had given his pension checks to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg, from which he had retired in July of last year, to return the money he had borrowed to help Ms. Zeller.

Monsignor Lawler said he had to borrow money from the diocese for Ms. Zeller’s $503 Walmart bill on Christmas Eve and a $1,700 bill at Aaron’s Furniture in Massena in January of this year.

“I was finally able to have money because I wasn’t giving money to Bobbie Jo anymore,” Monsignor Lawler said. “I was able to write some checks to straighten out my affairs.”

Additionally, the priest was asked about a ledger and receipts for money used for prepaid credit cards he kept with the dates he lent money to Ms. Zeller and the amounts on those dates.

Monsignor Lawler had spoken to police in October, January and April, during which he never mentioned the receipts and ledger, Mr. Pilatzke said, contrary to earlier testimony in which the priest said he surrendered the evidence to police.

“I remember that I kept a ledger of dates of the money I gave to Bobbie Jo and the receipts for the Green Dot Cards,” Monsignor Lawler read from a May 8 deposition he made to state police. “So that must have been the date that they got it. It’s later than I thought then.”

But Monsignor Lawler admitted that Ms. Zeller did pay back some of the funds, though a small amount. Ms. Zeller offered to pay back $1,500 to the priest, but he insisted she return that money to Ms. McQueeney, who lent her more than $15,000.

An Oct. 5 statement showed that a deposit of $250 was made into the priest’s account. He said he “guessed” that it came from Ms. Zeller, who did return a few hundred dollars to him, but wasn’t certain that it came from her, just that she returned a “small amount.”

“It wasn’t a great amount, but every little bit helps,” Monsignor Lawler said. “It was a one-shot deal. There were no other payments that I can recall. If there was something substantial, I would certainly recall it.”

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