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Judge dismisses three charges against Zeller

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CANTON — A judge dismissed three of the eight charges against Bobbie Jo Zeller, the Norfolk woman charged with scamming a priest and his parish out of more than $300,000.

St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome J. Richards dismissed three counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument that were brought against Ms. Zeller based on “lack of legally sufficient evidence,” according to the order issued Tuesday. She is still charged with two counts of second-degree grand larceny, two counts of third-degree grand larceny and one count of first-degree scheme to defraud.

Ms. Zeller’s attorney, Brian D. Pilatzke, filed a motion to dismiss the charges July 24, questioning the term “forgery.”

Mr. Pilatzke argued Aug. 5 in St. Lawrence County Court that the forgery charges should be brought into question as Ms. Zeller signed her own name on checks she presented to Monsignor Robert L. Lawler in the amounts of $300,000; $25,000 and $6,800, purportedly to pay him back.

According to the indictment, Ms. Zeller “engaged in a scheme constituting a systematic, ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud more than one person or to obtain property from more than one person by false or fraudulent pretenses, representations or promises.”

Mr. Pilatzke said he took issue with the allegations of Ms. Zeller’s possession of the checks.

“The issue is that what the indictment alleges that she did with respect to possessing checks they allege are fake does not constitute the crime of criminal possession of a forged instrument,” Mr. Pilatzke said.

In his order to dismiss the three counts, Judge Richards wrote that the definition of a forged instrument could have been drafted to include the conduct that took place in the dismissed charges, but did not.

“There is no grand jury evidence establishing that Bobbie Jo Zeller pretended to be someone other than herself in creating phony checks naming a fictitious account and then signing the checks herself,” Judge Richards wrote. The specific way in which the checks were created did not establish that she pretended to be either a bank officer or someone other than herself, he added.

District Attorney Nicole M. Duve’s office has been given an opportunity to reintroduce the three dismissed charges to a different grand jury if it is so inclined.

Ms. Duve was not available for comment.

Mr. Pilatzke also attempted to have the remaining larceny and fraud charges dismissed.

He argued again that the grand jury’s indictment states that Ms. Zeller allegedly started to scam Monsignor Lawler, his parishioners and a community out of more than $300,000 from fall 2010 until January, while the grand jury received a timeline of events that began in fall 2009.

Judge Richards denied that motion in a July 24 order, calling it a non-issue.

Mr. Pilatzke tried to reintroduce the motion, to which Judge Richards said he didn’t make a sufficient showing to justify raising it again.

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