Thursday, September 9, 2010

Jessica Vega, accused of faking cancer for wedding freebies, treating illness with water, exercise


The cash-cow bride accused of posing as a dying cancer patient to score wedding-day freebies still insists she's really sick - and not just a sick scammer.

Jessica Vega broke her silence Wednesday, calling her estranged husband a bitter and abusive drunk who lied when he told the world she tricked kind strangers into showering the couple with a free honeymoon, gown and wedding bands.

"I'm not manipulative," Vega told the Daily News in an exclusive sitdown. "Why would I ever create this thing? ... I have a beautiful daughter to live for."

The 23-year-old Westchester County newlywed - who split from Michael O'Connell within months of their May wedding - swears that a doctor at a Bronx clinic told her in February that she has terminal leukemia.

She also said she was fighting the illness with "water, the right foods and exercise" - rather than chemotherapy.

"I had seen what it did to my grandmother," she said. "I said, 'No way.'"

Vega couldn't produce any immediate proof from her doctor - "maybe tomorrow," she said. O'Connell says that Vega is lying, that there is no proof and that she concocted her sob story to win his pity and a fantasy wedding.

"I have leukemia," Vega insisted.

"It's completely false what Michael is saying," she added. "We're going through a nasty divorce, and it's a shame he escalated it to this level."

O'Connell cackled when told Vega stood by her story and said he felt like a "complete moron" and a "jackass" for believing the woman he fell for at a Manhattan culinary school.

"I'm not one who usually gets the wool pulled over his eyes," he told The News. "But when someone tells you they have cancer, you believe them."

The tawdry tale of marital discord made a splash in news organizations around the world, just as their earlier woeful saga captivated big-hearted strangers upstate.

Tammy Purdy, the general manager of the Comfort Inn of Newburgh, said she was stung after leaving rose petals, a bottle of Ed Hardy Champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries inside a comped honeymoon suite that usually goes for $200 a night.

"We wanted them to be wowed," Purdy said. "My husband died of cancer, so it became very personal for me."

Wedding photographer Joel Schreibman said he was moved by the sight of O'Connell "bawling like a baby" at the wedding but was puzzled when Vega was "partying her head off."

"I felt we did something good and honorable," said Schreibman, who gave the couple a freebie wedding photo package. "Now I feel like a fool."

Vega said she was "grateful" for the gifts and scammed no one.

Her soon-to-be ex-husband said he'll continue waiting for proof that she's got cancer. "I just want the truth," he said.

The couple has a 1-year-old daughter, Ava.

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