Oregon first lady Cylvia Hayes today confessed to breaking federal law in 1997 by entering into an illegal marriage with an 18-year-old Ethiopian immigrant.
Hayes, who is now engaged to Gov. John Kitzhaber, says she was paid approximately $5,000 to marry the man, Abraham B. Abraham. Hayes had kept the marriage secret because she was "embarrassed." She claims Kitzhaber did not know until this week, when WW first raised questions about it.
"He learned about this in the most painful and public way," she said. "This is my greatest sorrow in this difficult situation."
Hayes spoke at 4 pm at the World Trade Center in Portland. Kitzhaber was absent from the press conference. Hayes said she asked him not to attend.
Hayes called the sham marriage "a serious mistake." She added that she did not report the income she received from the marriage on her taxes. Filing a false tax return is against the law.
WW reported details of the marriage Wednesday night. Court and other records show Hayes and Abraham never lived together after they were married in 1997. (She was 29 at the time.) They filed for divorce in 2001 after Abraham had graduated from college.
It's a felony to enter into a marriage solely for the purpose of helping a foreign national gain citizenship or other immigration benefits. The statute of limitations may have expired in the case of Hayes, but Abraham could still face immigration penalties.
Hayes' voice choked with emotion throughout her statement. She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, and had to stop speaking before discussing her regret at not telling Kitzhaber about the marriage.
The full text of her statement was released to media during the press conference. It reads:
Seventeen years ago, I made a serious mistake by committing an illegal act when I married a person so that he could retain residency in the United States. It was a marriage of convenience. He needed help, and I needed financial support.We were both living in Washington State. I was attending Evergreen State College, and we were introduced by mutual acquaintances. This was a difficult and unstable period in my life. I want to be clear today - I was associating with the wrong people. I was struggling to put myself through college and was offered money in exchange for marrying a young person who had a chance to get a college degree himself if he were able to remain in the United States.We met only a handful of times. We never lived together. I have not had any contact with him since the divorce finalized in 2002.It was wrong then and it is wrong now and I am here today to accept the consequences, some of which will be life changing. And I cannot predict what direction this will go.In the few years after this bad decision I completed my degree, got my feet underneath me and established my home and career in Oregon. I became an active and engaged civic volunteer, community member and I became active politically.My decision to marry illegally felt very, very distant and far removed from the life I was building. I was ashamed and embarrassed. Therefore I did not share this information even with John once we met and started dating.This is the most painful part for me. John Kitzhaber deserved to know the history of the person he was forming a relationship with. The fact that I did not disclose this to him meant that he has learned about this in the most public and unpleasant way. This is my greatest sorrow in this difficult situation.I apologize deeply for my actions and omissions, first and foremost to John, the person I love and respect above all others. I also apologize to my friends, family and colleagues who have trusted and supported me. And to Oregonians, I deeply regret not being right up front about the fact that I had made a serious mistake. I owe you all an apology.The work that I do on behalf of our environment and trying to make people's lives better is incredibly important to me -- it's the focal point of my life. I will continue to do my best in that arena going forward.But for the time being, there are more important issues. I need to take some personal time to reflect and address this difficult situation and to focus on my relationship with John.
More details to follow.