By Jim Fitzgerald Associated Press
GOSHEN, N.Y. — A woman who faked having cancer so donors would pay for her “dream wedding” and Caribbean honeymoon was released from jail Wednesday after paying back more than $13,000 to the people she duped.
Jessica Vega apologized in court for the scam and was sentenced to time served — the less than two months she had been behind bars since her arrest. She had pleaded guilty last month to charges of scheming to defraud and possession of a forged instrument.
When she left the Orange County Jail in upstate New York a few hours later, she apologized again, saying “of course” she was sorry.
A prosecutor said Vega had paid back more than $13,000, with nine victims getting checks ranging from $500 to $3,700.
Vega also was sentenced to five years of probation and must serve 300 hours of community service. She will enter substance abuse and mental health programs.
She was living in Montgomery, a town 60 miles north of New York City, when she began the scam, which picked up steam when her story was featured in a newspaper, the Times Herald-Record, of Middletown.
Residents of the area, touched by her claim to be dying of leukemia, had donated her dress, the wedding rings, an Aruba time-share for the honeymoon and more for her 2010 wedding to Michael O’Connell, the father of her baby.
After the wedding, O’Connell went to the newspaper with questions about Vega’s story, and the couple divorced.
Vega was arrested in early April in Virginia, where she was again living with O’Connell and their second child.
Before being sentenced Wednesday, Vega apologized “to anyone in the courtroom offended by the crimes I have committed.” She asked Judge Robert Freehill to “give me the opportunity to live a more positive lifestyle and return to my children and my family.”
Her lawyer, Jeremiah Flaherty, said, “She’s never been in jail in her life. … It’s had a toll on her.”
The judge said he doubted that Vega was the sole perpetrator of the scam. O’Connell said afterward he had “absolutely nothing” to do with it.
The judge said, “No one likes to be taken advantage of. No one likes to be made a fool of.”
O’Connell said Vega will live with his family, including his parents, in Wallkill in neighboring Ulster County. He said he was relieved the case was over and there was a chance the two could rekindle their relationship “as long as she doesn’t mess up again.”