In April 2010, upstate residents and business owners were moved by the story of Jessica Vega, a young woman who was getting ready for her wedding day while facing terminal leukemia. Together, the community donated a wedding gown, flowers, rings, a honeymoon and even cash for Vega and her groom Michael O'Connell. The couple, with their baby daughter at their side, married on May 2...and then in September 2010, O'Connell revealed that Vega never had cancer. Now Vega has been indicted on grand larceny and fraud charges.
See, husband O'Connell became suspicious when Vega didn't seem to get sick and remained healthy. He called her doctor's office, which said she was never a patient there! NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, "By pretending to have a terminal illness, Vega inexcusably took advantage of the community's hearts and minds, and profited off of their generosity. Our office will hold this individual accountable for fleecing the public through lies and deception." A press release states, "Vega is charged with six felonies and one misdemeanor: one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, five counts of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, and one count of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Third Degree. The maximum sentence for any of the felony charges in the indictment is 1⅓- 4 years in prison."
Times Herald-Record reporter Doyle Murphy, who initially reported about Vega's plight, wrote in September 2010:
O'Connell insisted a letter from Dr. Dan Costin that described her diagnosis was a fake.
When I was reporting the April 26 story, Vega showed me the letter to verify her diagnosis.
Now O'Connell had invited me to listen in when he called Costin's Westchester office and asked about Vega's medical records: "Never a patient here" was the response.
He hadn't wanted to look at Costin's letter before. And Vega had said in April that she kept it hidden to make life easier for him. O'Connell said he now wished he'd checked out the letter sooner.
In his mother's house in Walden, he switched on the speakerphone and dialed Costin's number.
A receptionist transferred O'Connell to an administrator who sounded exasperated to hear from him again.
"I can tell you for sure this person was never a patient here," the woman said, adding that they didn't want to keep receiving his calls. O'Connell hung up and pumped his fist.
Vega, who said she would take Murphy to her doctor's office but never did, also accused O'Connell of being abusive (O'Connell claimed he bit her to escape being headlocked by her; he "said he also slapped her during a fight at their Montgomery apartment before they separated. He claimed Vega had torn up his car and punched him in the face that day because he was kicking her out.").
The couple divorced but got back together and have a second child. Vega has pleaded not guilty and O'Connell, who is trying to help her get a lawyer, thinks she should repay the donors, but shouldn't have jail time—just mental health treatment, "She's a good mom, and that's all that counts at the end of the day. I want my kids to have their mother back."