‘I was shocked’: A couple found out their marriage wasn’t official weeks after their Cape Cod wedding

"I think what we’re trying to do with this is just take this negative experience and turn it into a positive one," the bride said.

Ashley Veilleux and David Mellen during their wedding officiated by James Stern.
Ashley Veilleux and David Mellen during their wedding officiated by James Stern. –Courtesy of Ashley Veilleux

While newlyweds Ashley Veilleux and David Mellen enjoyed their wedding reception on Cape Cod, James Stern, their officiant, was spotted napping on a bench, his shoes off, just outside the celebration.

Multiple people told Veilleux about it afterward, but she wishes she’d known about it sooner.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. … Multiple people came to me afterwards and said, ‘Your officiant was sleeping outside the reception area.’”

The Agawam couple recently found out Stern wasn’t licensed as an officiant in Massachusetts, so they aren’t officially married — the Yarmouth Town Clerk’s office said it didn’t receive their marriage license, according to an article from MassLive

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Stern, 39, of Portsmouth, R.I., is also facing criminal charges stemming from another wedding he officiated as well as alleged thefts at two YMCAs.

‘He became distant’

Stern didn’t give off any red flags when Veilleux first got in touch with him, she said.

“He actually was great when I first contacted him,” she said. “He was very well involved and very well informed.”

Reviews on theknot.com show Stern, a non-denominational minister, with five-star ratings plus two of the website’s “best of weddings” awards for 2017 and 2018. The website for Stern’s business, An Amazing Day, details additional photo booth and uplighting services.

“Can’t weddings just be a little less expensive and easier? Don’t blow your budget on a justice of the peace or a church minister,” Stern’s website reads. “I work with you to make sure I fit your budget. I shouldn’t make a living off of your special moment. After all, its about you.”

Veilleux said it was after the couple paid Stern — a fee of nearly $1,000, according to MassLive — when the situation started to change.

“When we paid is when he fell off the grid,” she said. “He became distant.”

At the wedding rehearsal, Veilleux said she was “concerned with him,” but the ceremony itself turned out fine.

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“I was on cloud nine,” she recalled, noting that her focus was on everything else going on, not the officiant.

Criminal charges

Stern pleaded “not guilty” to three criminal charges in Newport District Court in Rhode Island on Sept. 12,  just days before the Veilleux-Mellen ceremony on Sept. 15. Portsmouth police say Stern used a credit card stolen from a wedding he officiated; he’s facing a felony and two misdemeanor charges, according to a South Coast Today article

Stern was arrested again on Oct. 9 and faces additional charges related to items allegedly stolen from the Newport County YMCA in Middletown and the Ocean Community YMCA in Westerly, both in Rhode Island, according to the Associated Press

A couple of weeks after the Veilleux-Mellen ceremony, two of Veilleux’s bridesmaids found their credit cards were used to make purchases — one had charges of $850 and $700, the other a $1,274 charge, which ended up being unsuccessful, Yarmouth Deputy Police Chief Steven Xiarhos said.

Charges against Stern have not been filed by Yarmouth police. Xiarhos said an investigation is ongoing and that Stern is the suspect.

“We are aware that he has a record for doing the same thing in the Newport area in Rhode Island,” Xiarhos said.

Craig Hein, James Stern’s attorney, declined to comment when reached by Boston.com.

A second ceremony

Veilleux said Mellen works on an oil rig, so he’s gone for several weeks at a time before returning home.

“He’s currently not home while all of this is happening,” she said.

When he returns, the couple are planning a second, smaller ceremony with just family and close friends.

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“I think what we’re trying to do with this is just take this negative experience and turn it into a positive one,” she said.

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