When aspiring bride Jessica Vega told her boyfriend Michael she had been diagnosed with leukaemia, his world fell apart. Understandably, he agreed to rush into marriage before it was too late.
After tearfully telling her loved ones she had ‘less than a year to live’, the bride’s friends, family and even strangers rallied around to fund the terminally ill woman’s $90,000 dream wedding – including a free designer dress, venue, and a luxury Caribbean honeymoon. But it was all a lie.The 25-year-old bride from New York was in perfect health – and today is behind bars on charges of fraud and grand larceny, after suspicious bridesmaids Victoria Bousche, 23, and Christina DeMaria, 22, called police. Today, they tell their story exclusively to New Idea.
‘We were in a bar in January 2010 when Jessica broke the news,’ recalls Victoria.
Her best friend Jessica, a chef, had shaved her head, explaining that chemotherapy and radiation treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia had already made her hair start to fall out. ‘I fell for it. You really don’t think anyone can lie about something like that, especially to your husband-to-be,’ Victoria says.
Construction worker Michael O’Connell, 25, the father of Jessica’s one-year-old daughter, had never cried in front of her, but for nearly two weeks they sobbed together daily as she revealed she had ‘just months left’.
When Jessica told a local newspaper she wanted a ‘dream wedding’, generous donations began flooding in. Keri Ciatsko, 28, co-owner of Bliss Bridal, met Jessica when she visited her store in February 2010.She was looking for a dress for her May wedding. I noticed she had very short hair and she told me she might wear a wig for her wedding. I said: “No, I like your hair short.” That’s when she looked at her friend and said: “OK, you can tell her.”’
Keri was told that Jessica was terminally ill with leukaemia and wanted to get married quickly before she passed away.
‘She asked if I could help her,’ recalls Keri. ‘I couldn’t do enough... I felt so sorry for her.’News of the heartbreaking story brought offers of a free venue for the reception and even a luxury island honeymoon.
A jeweller donated rings and a generous stranger even offered to pay for expensive cancer treatment – which, tellingly, Jessica refused.
‘Including the wedding and honeymoon, investigators think she received between $85,000 and $90,000. And nobody ever dreamt she was faking it,’ says Victoria, who had been friends with Jessica for five years.
‘On the morning of the wedding, May 2, 2010, Jessica was wasted before noon. We started drinking champagne at 8am, which I thought was strange, given that she only had a month to live at this point,’ Victoria recalls.
‘By the time the ceremony started at 12 o’clock, we were all crying hysterically when she read her vows, telling Michael: “We’ll battle this until the very end.”’
Jessica also revealed she planned to leave letters that her daughter could open on occasions such as her school formal or graduation. But a month later, the end was still not in sight: Jessica was still in perfect health, and questions began to be asked.Mysteriously, Michael and Jessica split, and she moved to Connecticut to live with her father.
‘Then one day in August we were all on the beach and I overheard Michael say to Jessica: “You’re supposed to be dead! What’s going on?”’When it was suspected a doctor’s letter given to the local newspaper was forged, police began investigating.
Dressmaker Keri recalls the day Michael told her the news.
‘Mike said: “Jessica lied. She’s not sick. She’s going to tell you that I’m the one lying and that she’s really sick.”’
Suddenly the pack of cards started to fall. Victoria then knew her best friend was faking it.
‘I was sobbing, and furious. I decided to phone the police,’ reveals Victoria.‘I kept thinking about all the innocent people who had given their hard-earned cash, while Jessica partied away.’
Police swooped and Jessica was taken away in handcuffs. Astoundingly, Jessica has since reportedly reunited with husband Michael, who says: ‘It is devastating and cruel. She doesn’t need prison, she needs help.’
Jessica is currently being held in jail. If convicted of fraud or grand larceny, she could face 16 months to four years in prison on each of six counts.
But when she gets out, her former bridesmaid Christina may give her further reason to wish she’d never lied. ‘Honestly, she used to be my best friend. But now, I want to find her and beat her ass.’By Jeff Maysh and Peter Karl
Wedding photo: Mandon Productions