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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spending Spree Snares Groom In Comatose Wedding Scam

TAMPA, Florida -- Hours before a comatose woman died, her boyfriend married her with the help of a notary public and a forged marriage license, police said. Then he went on a $20,000 spending spree using her credit cards.

"I thought I had seen every way to steal, scam or con people out of money, but it was hard to believe someone would do this," Detective Ed Hancock said Thursday.

Authorities say Robert Meier's marriage to Constance Sewell in January was a fraud from the beginning, because there was no way the woman could have known what was going on. She had suffered an aneurysm, was hospitalized in a coma for two days and died two to four hours after the bedside ceremony.

"She was deeply comatose, not capable of consenting to marriage, speaking or writing," Hancock said.

Officiating the ceremony was Meier's friend and notary public, Lawrence Hodge. Investigators say Hodge forged a marriage certificate and Meier forged Sewell's signature on credit card receipts.

Over the months, Meier charged a bedroom set, numerous home renovation items, restaurant tabs, a $1,000 down payment on a 1997 pickup truck and trips to Detroit and Indianapolis.

The whole episode came to light when Sewell's 78-year-old mother -- who shared credit cards with her daughter -- told authorities about huge credit card bills.

Meier, 55, and Sewell, 49, had known each other at least five years, and late last year began living together.

Sewell's mother attended the bedside service, but thought the ceremony was symbolic -- an expression of love, not marriage.

Meier, who is semiretired and has no previous record, was released on his own recognizance Thursday after his first appearance on theft and forgery charges.

Hodge has also been charged with forgery and notarizing documents he knew were fraudulent.