Ottawa couple may be among those scammed in Dominican wedding fraud

One Ottawa couple who were married in the Dominican Republic have learned that they may have fallen prey to a wedding scam.

One Ottawa couple who were married in the Dominican Republic have learned that they may have fallen prey to a wedding scam.

Charlene Marleau and Matthew Lalonde, who held their ceremony in Punta Cana last November, never received their marriage certificate.

Over the weekend, they learned that they could be among more than 200 British and Canadian couples who may have been married in fake ceremonies at resorts in the eastern Dominican Republic from July 2007 to the present.

Upon hearing of the scam, the couple said they had a "sinking feeling."

Marleau said she "trusted too much" and paid the judge $600 in cash for a 10-minute ceremony. She said he didn't issue a receipt and left immediately.

"He had this little piece of paper with the vows and he had crossed out the other people's names and written ours on top. We thought it was a little funny at the time," she said.

Marleau said it's an additional problem because she has taken her husband's name and will need to produce a marriage certificate for income tax, insurance and even a new passport.

"The wedding was beautiful. It was great to have our friends and family there.… It was a weeklong vacation with everyone we love," she said, but warned couples holding a destination wedding, "Get a receipt. Get a certificate or copy of one before you leave."

To avoid falling prey to such a scam, wedding planner Bree Honey, of Toronto-based Luxe Destination Weddings, said couples should do research in advance.

While she advises hiring a specialist, Honey said couples should contact the local consulate and the tourism board to determine the requirements for a marriage license.

For example, she said, in the Dominican Republic, the required length of time before someone can remarry after being divorced can range from 10 months to a year. Additionally, the marriage certificate must be translated into Spanish.

For the couples who are concerned about their missing wedding certificates, she said they can always go to city hall to legalize the marriage and view their destination wedding as a symbolic ceremony.

The Dominican Republic Embassy in Ottawa told CBC News that they have no indication of any marriage scam.

"We haven't received here one official complaint that this is not legal," embassy press attaché Eugene Matos said. "This is not yet an official situation."

The Dominican Republic's Central Electoral Board, which oversees civil marriages, said it began an investigation after it started to receive requests for marriage certificates that were not listed in its books. Four people, all board employees, have been detained in the case, investigators said.

The president of the Dominican board's administrative panel, Roberto Rosario, said last week that the government would address the lack of documentation for the affected couples and requested patience during the investigation.