GOSHEN, N.Y. — An upstate New York woman who faked having cancer so donors would pay for her wedding and Caribbean honeymoon was sentenced Wednesday to the nearly two months she has already served in jail for duping individuals and businesses out of more than $13,000.
Jessica Vega, who apologized in court for the scam, was expected to be released later in the day from the county jail where she has been held since April 25. A prosecutor said she has paid back more than $13,368, 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 also must enter substance abuse and mental health programs.
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Vega was arrested April 3 and pleaded guilty three weeks later to charges of scheming to defraud and possession of a forged instrument.
When asked before sentencing how his 25-year-old client was doing, defense lawyer Jeremiah Flaherty replied: “Not good.”
“She’s never been in jail in her life. … It’s had a toll on her,” Flaherty said.
Flaherty told Judge Robert Freehill that Vega misses her two young children.
“She’s done everything that was required and she will continue to do that after she’s released,” he said.
Before being sentenced, Vega apologized “to anyone in the courtroom offended by the crimes I have committed.” She asked Freehill to “give me the opportunity to live a more positive lifestyle and return to my children and my family.”
Freehill said he was skeptical that Vega was the sole perpetrator of the scam, then told her she was fortunate she didn’t suffer from the disease she claimed to suffer when she sought donations for her wedding.
“No one likes to be taken advantage of. No one likes to be made a fool of,” the judge told her.
Her ex-husband, Michael O’Connell, said Vega will live with his family, including his parents, in Wallkill in neighboring Ulster County. The judge said he would transfer her post-sentencing supervision to Ulster County.
Vega claimed in 2010 that she was dying of leukemia and wanted a “dream wedding” to O’Connell, the father of her baby. The couple has since had a second child.
Vega 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.
After their May 2010 wedding, O’Connell came to the newspaper with questions about her story and the couple divorced.
She was arrested in early April in Virginia, where she was again living with O’Connell and their second child.
Outside the courthouse Wednesday, O’Connell said he was relieved the ordeal was over. He said there was a chance for the two could rekindle their relationship, “as long as she doesn’t mess up again.”