A mother of two who tricked friends and well-wishers into paying for her wedding and honeymoon in Aruba after falsely claiming she had leukaemia has been freed from jail after paying everyone back.
When she was being sentenced to jail, community service and five years probation, Jessica Vega, 25, apologised to her victims who had made her 2010 wedding to her then boyfriend, Michael O'Connell, possible with donations from $500 (£320) to $3,700. She has reimbursed $13,368 to nine donors.
The campaign to give Vega the wedding day of her dreams took off after she told a newspaper in the town of Middleton, about 60 miles north of New York City, of her alleged battle with cancer. When the nuptials were over, however, Mr O'Connell returned to the newspaper to blow the whistle on her.
This week, an apparently remorseful Vega told the Times Herald-Record that she originally started the lies in an effort to draw Mr O'Connell back into a relationship that had run into difficulties. They already had one baby together and now have a second child.
"Every day you're creating new scenarios and new scenarios," she said after her release from jail. "And then one day you wake up and realise your whole life is a lie."
The outpouring from donors paid for her wedding rings, the wedding dress and a time-share stay on Aruba. Vega and her husband split over the incident but have since been reconciled. She said she hoped to be forgiven by everyone she duped.
"My main thing is I want people to know I'm trying to make this right," she said. "At the end of the day, I didn't rob anybody. I didn't rape anybody. I didn't murder anybody. I made a mistake."
Following her arrest on 10 April, Vega pleaded guilty to charges of scheming to defraud and possession of a forged instrument – a fake doctor's letter detailing her cancer diagnosis that she used to convince the newspaper of her story. During her seven weeks on remand awaiting sentencing, she worked on a book about her life. She said she would give any proceeds from it to cancer research.
As well as the community service, Vega was ordered by the court to enter mental and substance abuse programmes. "No one likes to be taken advantage of," Judge Robert Freehill told her. "No one likes to be made a fool of."