How Not to Afford Your Dream Wedding

"Dream wedding": Two special words, for two very special people.

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"Dream wedding": Two special words, for two very special people. These two words have the power to unite, to create harmony and love for, ideally, years to come, and at the very least to bring families and friend together to celebrate in a place laden with palm trees and delicious daiquiris. Conversely, these two words can turn ugly. They may fester and burn the hearts and souls of those hoping so obsessively to create a magical moment that those people actually go completely and totally insane, and do terrible things. Terrible things people have done for their dream weddings include, in a non-exhaustive anecdotal list, making their bridesmaids crazy; spending all their savings; making themselves crazy; faking cancer to pay for their dream wedding.

Yes, it is so. A woman faked terminal cancer to raise money for her "lavish wedding reception and honeymoon." And she is now being punished by the forces that be—punished so harshly you'd almost feel sorry for her, except that she faked cancer to have her dream wedding. Let's take this tale as an instructional fable, a cautionary tale to be passed down to future generations of bridezillas. Jessica Vega, 25, is the New York bride that went there. Like a man killing another in wartime or perhaps Jean Valjean stealing bread to feed his family, Vega did the unthinkable for a greater good. She involved the Times Herald-Record, which ran a story on her wish: to have the wedding of her dreams after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Thousands of dollars in goods and services, from wedding dresses to a wig (Vega had shaved her head as part of the ruse) to plane tickets, plus plain old cash, were donated to help Vega achieve her dream. In 2010, the dream came to life: Vega was married to Michael O'Connell (it appears she tricked him with her story as well), and they went off to a delightful honeymoon in Aruba.

From the original Times Herald-Record story, this deception was so extensive it included Vega's plan to write letters to her daughter so the little girl would remember her:

The only time Jessica gets angry about her future is when she allows herself to think about the best-case scenario. Maybe she quadruples the 6- to-8-month time frame doctors have given her. Maybe she even gets four or five years before the disease takes her. Her daughter, Ava, still won't remember her, she thinks. Jessica has considered solutions and has settled on letters. Each one will be in its own envelope, stowed away so that Michael can bring them out, one at a time, as the girl grows older and asks questions only her mother could answer. Jessica thinks she might write one about the prom. Maybe another for graduation. And in one envelope, Jessica plans to write a letter Michael can bring out at just the right time. Ava's mother will tell her about love.

Four months later, after the wedding and honeymoon, O'Connell told the Times Herald-Record that Vega had been faking. The doctor who Vega had appeared to have used to support the cancer story to the paper denied having seen her; she'd forged his letter. O'Connell and Vega divorced. And most recently, Vega, who has two kids with O'Connell, was arraigned Friday and pleaded not guilty. She's being held on $10,000 bail in county jail and faces up to four years in prison, where the surf and turf is likely not top-notch. Also, the attorney general of New York is none too thrilled with these shenanigans. Via NBC New York,

“By pretending to have a terminal illness, Vega inexcusably took advantage of the community's hearts and minds, and profited off of their generosity,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. “Our office will hold this individual accountable for fleecing the public through lies and deception.”

We all learned a few things here. As for "dream weddings," those two little words are dangerous indeed; be careful around them. There is, in fact, a next-level version of the bridezilla. If you fake cancer for a wedding, don't even worry about whether or not to give the gifts back, you have way bigger fish to fry. If you are a paper doing a story about a woman whose dying wish is to have her dream wedding, fact-check, fact-check, fact-check. People do not like to be tricked into paying for dream weddings with this sort of lie! And, of course, never fake cancer for anything, much less for a "dream wedding." Seriously, that's actually quite sick.
Image via Shutterstock by Lia Koltyrina.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.