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COUPLE HOPES VOWS OPEN DOOR TO IMMIGRATION

It was not your traditional wedding ceremony.

The bride arrived wearing a lovely white satin wedding gown -- and handcuffs.

The wedding chapel was the chamber of Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina.

The reception was held in the courtroom.

A very nervous bridegroom, who was about to hold his bride close for the first time, waited in the office of a staff attorney.

When the ceremony ended and everyone was congratulating the happy couple, Mattina, who officiated, announced he would "do something I have never done in my 35 years on the bench. I am going to kiss the defendant."

And indeed he did, as Elena Ladiguina Cappellano beamed and her new husband, Thomas H. Cappellano, proudly stood by her side.

When they were done with the champagne and wedding cake, the bride was returned to the Erie County Holding Center, where she continues to be held as an illegal alien.

Whether Monday's wedding ceremony ultimately will have a storybook ending depends on a decision by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. At issue is whether the marriage is a genuine love match and not just a ruse to help Mrs. Cappellano avoid deportation to her native Ukraine.

The 27-year-old bride was radiant in the wedding gown, tulle veil held close to her head by a garland of flowers, white satin shoes and long white satin gloves.

All had been chosen and purchased by Cappellano, 58, a retired radio communications employee for the Buffalo Streets Department.

Mrs. Cappellano was brought to the courthouse from the holding center, where she has been detained since early May for illegally entering the United States. Her three-year-old daughter, Caroline, was placed in the custody of a court-appointed guardian.

In May, when Cappellano read Ms. Ladiguina's story and saw the picture in The Buffalo News of her and Caroline, "I just felt so strongly that I had to see if I could do something to keep them
together," he remembered, "either in this country or her native Ukraine."

As he gathered Caroline into his arms to take her into the judge's chambers, he said, "I never imagined this is how it would end."

A little embarrassed, he confided: "I fell in love with her the first time I saw her, but I didn't tell her for a long time."

Bernadette Alessi, Mattina's secretary, said that before the ceremony, "Mr. Cappellano never stopped coming in and out of here with the flowers, the veil, make-up and even perfume for the bride. And then the champagne, glasses, a wedding cake.

"I've never seen anyone so excited," she smiled.

The Rev. Paul Mertzluff, pastor of the All Saints Lutheran Church in Hamburg, was standing by to give Cappellano moral support, as he has done for the couple throughout their three-month courtship, which was carried on across a wide wooden table in the holding center's visiting room.

Monday was the second time in four months the new Mrs. Cappellano stood before Mattina.

The first time she was fighting a deportation order back to the Ukraine and at the same time, was desperate to prove she was Caroline's mother.

More than four years ago, at the urging of a Czech gypsy boyfriend, Mrs. Cappellano came to the United States and Buffalo under a visa she bought on the black market. Her boyfriend had convinced her he would receive political asylum because gypsies were persecuted in Europe and then they would get married and she in turn would receive asylum.

That never happened, and instead Mrs. Cappellano faced a host of major problems.

Her boyfriend went to Canada and disappeared.

Pregnant and penniless, she used a green card belonging to someone else to be admitted to Children's Hospital, where Caroline was born.

As a result, the birth certificate listed the woman whose green card Mrs. Cappellano had borrowed as Caroline's mother.

A few months later, federal INS officials caught up with Mrs. Cappellano and ordered her deported.

But first, a determination had to be made about her daughter's citizenship.

Lackawanna attorney Paul M. Michalek argued successfully before Mattina that Caroline was a U.S. citizen.

Mattina placed Caroline with special guardians, and her mother was taken to the holding center pending her deportation.

Once again, fate intervened in the person of immigration attorney Robert D. Kolken, who was retained by Cappellano.

Whether there will be a honeymoon depends on Kolken convincing the INS that the marriage was not one of convenience -- a means for Mrs. Cappellano to remain in the United States.

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