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It sounded like a fairy tale, or at least a made-for-TV movie.

An older man comes to the rescue of a young illegal immigrant, marrying her to save her and her 3-year-old daughter from deportation.

But apparently the story will not have the requisite happy ending.

Thomas Cappellano, 58, and the former Elena Ladiguina, 27, who were married a little more than a year ago in the chambers of Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina, now have separated and Cappellano said he plans to file for divorce.

"It was always in the back of my mind that something like this was a possibility," a devastated Cappellano admitted a few days ago, struggling to hold back tears.

"My family, my friends, everybody told me 'You are crazy to marry this foreign girl who is so much younger' but I loved her and the baby so much . . . She used me but I refused to believe it."

Mrs. Cappellano, who is now out of jail after posting a $15,000 bond, has a decidedly different recollection of what happened.

"In the beginning, I truly respected Tom," she insisted, "for doing what he did for me and for taking care of Caroline, and I did fall in love with him because he had such a big heart.

"I wanted to have a healthy and loving relationship with Tom but very soon, he was wanting to control me and he was a jealous man," she said. "I found out . . . he was jealous of Caroline's father and I haven't seen him in two and a half years."

More than four years ago, the young woman from Ukraine illegally entered the United States to join her Czech boyfriend, who had promised her they would be granted political asylum.

Instead, she became pregnant, and her boyfriend deserted her and moved to Canada.

Without a legal visa or a green card, she managed for more than a year until she was apprehended by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Cappellano read about her plight in The Buffalo News and decided to come to her rescue, and to help care for the baby.

They were married a little more than a year ago; the bride was led from her jail cell to the courtroom for the ceremony.

Cappellano said he thought he and his new wife would be together after she was released from prison.

He was wrong.

When her lawyer told her she could be released from prison on $15,000 bond, Mrs. Cappellano said she turned to a friend because she knew her husband did not have the money.

"What do you think I should do," asked Mrs. Cappellano, "stay in jail the rest of my life? I want to be with Caroline and I want to do things with my life."

Cappellano said the reason he had no money was because he had spent so much on lawyers and to help care for Caroline.

"I didn't find out about her new boyfriend until a few months ago when I went to visit her and the guards told me she had a visitor and it was a man," he said.

His estranged wife angrily reacted to her husband's version of the break-up.

"I think he got tired of waiting for me," she said. "He dumped me and my friend was a good excuse for him."

Mrs. Cappellano's attorney has filed legal papers requesting that she regain custody of her daughter, who has been in foster care.

Cappellano's attorney is preparing the paperwork "for a divorce, an annulment or whatever I have to do to put my life back together." He is making no legal fight for custody.

Ned Welsh, a Western New York native now working as a writer/producer in California, said he was intrigued enough by the story to think Hollywood might be interested.

"Tom sounded like an absolutely sweet guy, there was the young immigrant wife and the cute little girl . . . It had all the elements of a possible TV movie," Welsh said Tuesday. "But if we ever do it, I guess we will have to make some changes in our original story line."

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