Alleged Church Swindler Arrested, Accused of Stealing $314K
State police have arrested a woman who allegedly duped a former Waddington priest into soliciting money from parishioners on her behalf.
Bobbi Jo Zeller was found Thursday at a motel in Malone and was arraigned in Ogdensburg City Court.
Police said the 36 year old Norfolk woman is a suspect in a scam in which she told a former priest at Waddington's St. Mary's Church that she needed financial help for a sick child.
There was no sick child, police said.
During her arraignment, it was revealed that she allegedly stole $300,000 from then-Monsignor Robert Lawler and 20 parishioners.
According to court documents, Zeller allegedly depleted Lawler's retirement account.
She is also accused of using the sick child scam to swindle three other people out of $14,000.
According to state police Investigator Peter Kraengel, Zeller said she was in the FBI's Witness Protection Program and was working on a case; she claimed that once the case was complete and she was paid for her work, she planned to pay back the money.
Police said she did not work for the FBI.
"She obtained all this money under false pretenses by leading people to believing really outrageous and outlandish stories," said Kraengel.
Zeller was formally charged on the following felony counts:
- 3 counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument
- 2 counts of third-degree grand larceny
- 1 count of fourth-degree grand larceny
- 1 count of first-degree identity theft
It was revealed in court that Zeller has two prior felony convictions.
She was ordered held without bail in the St. Lawrence County Jail.
Last month, state police said they believed Zeller was "in hiding" and asked for the public's help in finding her.