Phony 'dying bride' ordered to repay victims

Posted at 05/25/12 12:24 PM

NEW YORK - A New York bride who faked having terminal cancer to swindle well-wishers into funding her dream wedding and honeymoon to the Caribbean on Wednesday was ordered to repay more than $13,000 to her victims, prosecutors said.

Jessica Vega, 25, pleaded guilty last month to fraud and forgery charges for deceiving people in the Hudson Valley area of New York into thinking she had only a few months to live, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said. Moved by her tale, individuals and businesses donated thousands of dollars to pay for her wedding in May 2010 and her honeymoon in Aruba.

Her scheme unraveled after her husband, Michael O'Connell, contacted the Times Herald-Record in Orange County to say his bride had faked her illness. He was not charged, and the couple have since divorced, although the Times Herald-Record reported he was there to pick her up from jail on Wednesday.

"To prey on people's emotions by pretending to have a terminal illness is unconscionable," Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement. "I am pleased that the community members, who felt so compelled to generously help a neighbor in need, will be given back their hard-earned money."

Besides repaying $13,368.48 to her victims, Vega was sentenced to time already served in jail, must do 300 hours of community service and serve five years on probation. She spent eight weeks in jail before her release on Wednesday.

Vega agreed to hand over the money to repay the nine known victims ahead of her sentencing on Wednesday in the hope of receiving a more lenient sentence, and the checks are due to be sent out to her victims over the coming week, a spokeswoman for the attorney general said.

An attorney for Vega did not immediately respond to queries.