A former New York woman was so desperate to have the wedding of her dreams that she feigned cancer in order to scam people – including her own groom – into providing her with a lavish wedding and exotic honeymoon.
The Times Herald-Record is reporting that an Orange County, New York Grand Jury has indicted 25 year-old Jessica Vega with grand larceny and other charges after bilking dozens of people into donating thousands of dollars worth of goods such as a wedding gown, reception hall, flowers, and honeymoon by saying she was dying of cancer. While claiming to have acute myeloid leukemia, she said she wanted to marry the father of her daughter before she died.
It wasn’t until four months after their May 2, 2010 wedding that her husband, Michael O’Connell, contacted his wife’s purported doctor and found out that she had never been one of his patients.
According to friends, Vega played the part well. She cut her hair and even shaved it in some places to make it look as though she was undergoing chemo. The ploy worked. Keri Ciastko first met Vega when she walked into Bella Courture bridal shop in search of a gown. Seeing her short hair and hearing how quickly she needed a gown, Ciastko started making phone calls and, along with her sister-in-law, Rachel Taylor, was able to pool together enough money to provide Vega with a $1,200 wedding gown, veil and shoes.
Other people who were touched by her story donated everything else she needed for a lavish wedding, from flowers to an expensive honeymoon in Aruba.
But four months after the wedding it all fell apart when her unsuspecting husband discovered the truth.
“When somebody says they have cancer, you don’t expect them to be lying about it,” O’Connell said.
Vega has been indicted on six felonies: five counts of grand larceny and one count of scheming to defraud.
“By pretending to have a terminal illness, Vega inexcusably took advantage of the community’s hearts and minds, and profited off of their generosity,” said New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “Our office will hold this individual accountable for fleecing the public through lies and deception.”
Even though many of the people she defrauded are angry, not all of them want to see Vega go to jail for her crimes.
Lisa Stoker of the Wallkill River House who supplied flowers for Vega’s wedding, said she believes the woman needs help rather than jail time.
“In no way am I saying she’s guiltless, but sitting in jail isn’t helping,” Stoker told the Times-Herald. “She should get mental help, make restitution and apologize.”
As for her husband, he moved to Virginia shortly after the split and has since reconciled with Vega with the hopes of helping her turn her life around. The couple is currently living together in Virginia and have had a second child.
“She’s a good mom, and that’s all that counts at the end of the day,” O’Connell said. “I want my kids to have their mother back.”
O’Connell is cooperating with the attorney general’s investigation and while he believes his ex-wife should repay donors and apologize, he too believes mental health treatment is a better option for her than jail time.
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