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Woman charged with faking cancer to get 'dream wedding'

Jessica Vega, 25, received her wedding dress, rings and honeymoon as donations – people thought she was terminally ill.

Jessica Vega is accused of falsely claiming she had leukaemia in order to solicit donations for her
Jessica Vega is accused of falsely claiming she had leukaemia in order to solicit donations for her "dream wedding".
Image: AP Photo/Orange County Corrections Division via the Times Herald-Record

STRANGERS DONATED the beautifully embroidered wedding dress, the two rings, the honeymoon time-share in Aruba. They acted quickly, too, because the bride was dying of cancer. Or so she said.

The New York state attorney general’s office has announced that a 25-year-old woman, Jessica Vega, has been indicted on charges of fraud and grand larceny for getting her “dream wedding” by falsely claiming she was dying of leukaemia.

“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 Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

“Our office will hold this individual accountable for fleecing the public through lies and deception.”

Vega was arrested in Virginia on April 3, extradited to New York and arraigned last Friday in Orange County Court in Goshen. She pleaded not guilty. A call to the Legal Aid firm that represented her was not immediately returned.

Among the alleged victims listed in the indictment is the Nu-Cavu restaurant in Wallkill, where the bridal reception was held and wine and appetisers worth more than $1,000 were donated.

Part owner Carmela Vitolo-Gelsomine said, “We tried to do the best we could for her. We thought she was in a situation where she needed help.”

Others listed as victims are the boutique that donated the wedding dress, and a woman who volunteered to do hair and makeup for the bride and seven bridesmaids.

Schneiderman said that in 2010, Vega claimed she had just a few months to live and wanted a “dream wedding” to Michael O’Connell, father of her year-old daughter.

‘Touched by her story’

Her cause spread quickly around the mid-Hudson region, helped by a story in the Times Herald Record. The newspaper said Vega showed a reporter what she said was a doctor’s letter confirming the diagnosis.

Vega also said she planned to leave letters to her daughter that the girl could open after the mother’s death on such occasions as her prom or graduation.

The community was “touched by her story,” the attorney general said.

Vega and O’Connell were married in May 2010. Four months later, O’Connell expressed suspicions to the newspaper, saying he believed the doctor’s letter was fake. Vega said she hadn’t lied.

One of the charges in the indictment says Vega was in possession of a forged document.

The couple divorced, but the Times Herald Record reported yesterday that O’Connell said they had been living together again in Virginia and had a second child.

“She’s a good mom,” he said. “I want my kids to have their mother back.”

If convicted of fraud or grand larceny, Vega could be sentenced 16 months to four years in prison on each of six counts.

- Jim Fitzgerald

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