Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber knew his fiancee had been married before when they got engaged this summer after a 10-year relationship. The only problem is, he didn't know Cylvia Hayes had had three previous marriages, not two—and that the third one was to an Ethiopian immigrant looking to get his green card, the Oregonian reports. "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," she said in an emailed statement yesterday. "It was a marriage of convenience. He needed help, and I needed financial support" (she reportedly received about $5,000). Such a marriage is a federal crime if the government determines the marriage is a "sham" just so one of the parties can stay in the US, the Oregonian notes.
Questions arose after Willamette Week started digging around and found court records about the unacknowledged third marriage. Hayes, who held a tearful press conference yesterday, says in her statement she was in a "difficult and unstable period" in which she "was associating with the wrong people" when she married Abraham B. Abraham in 1997; she was 29, he was an 18-year-old who wanted to get his math degree. Hayes says they met just a few times, didn't live together, and haven't been in touch since their 2002 divorce was finalized. Foreign nationals can be eligible for citizenship via naturalization after having "lived in marital union" with the same spouse for three years, US Citizenship and Immigration Services notes. Hayes says her "greatest sorrow" is that she didn't tell Kitzhaber about the marriage. "He has learned about this in the most public and unpleasant way." Read Hayes' entire statement. (Read more Oregon stories.)