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Lead witness flees Zeller scam trial in tears

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CANTON — The first day of the larceny trial of Bobbie Jo Zeller was cut short Wednesday when the lead witness stormed out of the courtroom in tears.

Ms. Zeller, 32, of Norfolk, faces two counts of grand larceny, accused of scamming Potsdam resident Gloria J. Dietze out of more than $3,000.

Wednesday afternoon’s testimony focused on Ms. Dietze’s financial records. Special Prosecutor Nicole M. Duve used the records in an attempt to show how Ms. Dietze regularly provided Ms. Zeller with payments ranging from $80 to $500, with the expectation of being paid back.

Defense attorney Brian D. Pilatzke attempted to highlight discrepancies between Ms. Dietze’s records and her testimony.

After more than two hours of questioning from both attorneys, Ms. Duve asked Ms. Dietze to clarify the story behind an A.T.M. withdrawal made in 2011. She asked whether the cash had been given to Ms. Zeller. Ms. Dietze said it had. When Ms. Duve asked Ms. Dietze how she could be sure, Ms. Dietze responded it was because she “didn’t pay any of my bills.”

When Ms. Duve asked her to clarify her statement, Ms. Dietze became upset and threw the photocopies of her financial records in the air.

“She knows it,” she said, pointing at Ms. Zeller before storming out of the courtroom with tears in her eyes.

“Don’t ask me to come back, because I’m not,” she said as she left.

The incident happened just a few minutes before court was scheduled to wrap up for the day. Judge Jerome J. Richards adjourned the trial after the incident, admonishing members of the jury not to consider Ms. Dietze’s final comments when the time comes for them to deliberate.

“It was a statement made under emotional stress, and it should not be considered,” he said.

The trial began at about 11 a.m.

In her opening statement to the jury of eleven women and four men, Ms. Duve said she would prove Ms. Zeller was behind a “good old-fashioned con.”

“This case is not complicated, and I don’t expect it will take very long,” she said.

Mr. Pilatzke said the prosecution’s case is built on untruths and shaky logic.

“When you hear this case from the witness stand, I want you to ask yourself two questions,” he told the jury. “Why doesn’t this story make sense, and why does it keep changing?”

According to Ms. Dietze’s testimony, her brother Robert L. Dietze introduced her to Ms. Zeller in 2011. At first, Mr. Dietze asked his sister for money to pass along to Ms. Zeller. Once Ms. Dietze met Ms. Zeller for herself, she began making payments herself, sometimes neglecting her own bills to help the defendant, according to her testimony. She said she was living on Social Security at the time.

These payments were always in cash. Her records and her memory are incomplete, so the exact amount of money lent is unknown, although it is alleged to be between $3,000 and $4,000.

Ms. Dietze said she believed the money was to help Ms. Zeller’s diabetic son. She stated Ms. Zeller promised to pay back double what she borrowed.

“I thought we were friends,” Ms. Dietze said. “She was good to me. She would come and talk with me.”

Mr. Pilatzke pointed to discrepancies between the testimony and the financial records. He focused on payments Ms. Dietze claimed to have given to her brother to pass on to Ms. Zeller on Aug. 25 and 27, 2011, even though she had earlier stated her first such payment was not made until Aug. 28.

There was some discussion in the courtroom before the trial began about whether to allow certain evidence and testimony.

Ms. Duve argued that testimony from some of Ms. Zeller’s other alleged victims would confirm Ms. Zeller’s ambition to scam others.

Ms. Zeller is accused of stealing more than $300,000 from the late Monsignor Robert L. Lawler and others, charges which have not yet been brought to trial. She turned down a plea deal that would have combined the charges involving all the alleged victims.

Mr. Pilatzke argued such testimony had no bearing on the current case.

Judge Richards has yet to decide on the matter.

The trial will resume at 9:45 a.m. Friday.

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