Oregon governor's fiancee admits to sham marriage

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Oregon governor's fiancee admits to sham marriage
Cylvia Hayes, fiancee of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, cries as she speaks at a news conference in Portland, Ore. on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. Hayes has admitted that she violated the law when she married an immigrant seeking to retain residency in the United States. She said she was "associating with the wrong people" while struggling to put herself through college and regrets her actions. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)
Cylvia Hayes, fiancee of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, speaks at a news conference in Portland, Ore. on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. Hayes has admitted that she violated the law when she married an immigrant seeking to retain residency in the United States. She said she was "associating with the wrong people" while struggling to put herself through college and regrets her actions. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)
Cylvia Hayes, fiancee of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, speaks at a news conference in Portland, Ore. on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. Hayes has admitted that she violated the law when she married an immigrant seeking to retain residency in the United States. She said she was "associating with the wrong people" while struggling to put herself through college and regrets her actions. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)
Oregon Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber makes a statement before his gubernatorial debate with Republican challenger Dennis Richardson in Portland, Ore., Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. This is Kitzhaber's first public appearance since Thursday's admission by his fiance, Cylvia Hayes, to violating the law in 1997 when she married an immigrant seeking to retain residency in the United States. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Oregon Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber makes a statement before his gubernatorial debate with Republican challenger Dennis Richardson in Portland, Ore., Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. This is Kitzhaber's first public appearance since Thursday's admission by his fiance, Cylvia Hayes, to violating the law in 1997 when she married an immigrant seeking to retain residency in the United States. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and his companion Cylvia Hayes, walk beside the high-speed train as they arrive visit to Tianjin, China, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, center, accompanied with his companion Cylvia Hayes, talks with Yuya Ishizuka, a recipient at the awarding ceremony of the Enjoy Oregon Wine Fair in Tokyo Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. Kitzhaber is on a three-day trip to Japan. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, center, looks on his companion Cylvia Hayes, left, congratulates a recipient after the governor presented him a grand award of excellence plaque at the awarding ceremony of the Enjoy Oregon Wine Fair in Tokyo Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. Kitzhaber is on a three-day trip to Japan. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, right, and his companion Cylvia Hayes react to a welcome from attendees at the awarding ceremony of the Enjoy Oregon Wine Fair in Tokyo Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. Kitzhaber is on a three-day trip to Japan. (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)
Gov. John Kitzhaber, center, and companion Cylvia Hayes, left, look on at Helman Elementary School in Ashland, Ore., on Monday, April 11, 2011, as Oregon Department of Energy analyst J.P. Bathmale explains how energy auditors use a touchpad computer to do energy audits under the governor's Cool Schools jobs and energy efficiency program. Kitzhaber was at the school to see the location of the first of 500 school energy audits that will be done with federal stimulus money in coming months. Schools will go on to tap $39 million in bonds to upgrade their energy efficiency. (AP Photo/Jeff Barnard)
FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2011 file photo, Democrat John Kitzhaber, left, is sworn in as Oregon governor in House chambers as the 76th Oregon Legislature begins in Salem, Ore. Standing to the right of Kitzhaber is Cylvia Hayes. Kitzhaber was briefed about a criminal investigation involving his companion, Cylvia Hayes, in a meeting with Oregon Attorney General John Kroger before Kitzhaber took office in January, according to a Portland newspaper. The Oregonian reports that Kroger says the main purpose of the Dec. 2 briefing was to personally inform Kitzhaber investigators had concluded weeks earlier Hayes had not done anything wrong.(AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber's fiancee admitted Thursday that she violated the law when she married an immigrant seeking to retain residency in the United States.

Cylvia Hayes said in a news conference that she believes she was paid around $5,000 for the 1997 marriage. She said she was "associating with the wrong people" while struggling to put herself through college.

"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," Hayes said.

Hayes said she was "ashamed and embarrassed," and did not tell the governor about the marriage until a reporter from the Willamette Week newspaper began asking questions this week. She appeared alone before a podium in a downtown Portland office building, saying she asked Kitzhaber not to join her because she can't look at him without crying.

When she told Kitzhaber about the marriage, "he was stunned and he was hurt," Hayes said, pausing to fight tears. "And I will be eternally grateful for the beautiful, loving way he has supported me in this."

Hayes apologized to Kitzhaber, her friends and family, and to Oregonians, saying she deeply regrets not being upfront about "a serious mistake." The couple confirmed in August that they're engaged.

Hayes was twice divorced and just shy of her 30th birthday when she married an 18-year-old Ethiopian man. She was a student at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and she said they were introduced by a mutual acquaintance.

Hayes said they never lived together, met only a handful of times and have not had any contact since the divorce was finalized in 2002.

"It was a marriage of convenience," Hayes said. "He needed help, and I needed financial support."

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), marriage fraud is a felony offense that can carry a prison sentence of up to five years and a possible fine of up to $250,000 for both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. Those charged with marriage fraud may also be charged with other offenses such as visa fraud or making false statements, carrying additional prison sentences and/or financial penalties.

This spring, ICE launched an outreach campaign warning Americans about the consequences of marriage fraud. Officials say sham marriages pose a "significant security vulnerability."

Hayes said Thursday that she's hired a lawyer to help with potential legal consequences.

Hayes, 47, has openly discussed her hardscrabble childhood in Washington state and her struggle to support herself financially since high school.

Kitzhaber met Hayes when she ran unsuccessfully for the state Legislature in 2002. Kitzhaber, who was governor from 1995 until 2003, divorced his second wife, Sharon, shortly after leaving office. Kitzhaber made a political comeback in 2010.

Though they have yet to marry, Kitzhaber refers to Hayes as the "first lady," and she has embraced the role of political spouse while continuing her work as an energy consultant. She has been active in developing Kitzhaber's energy and environmental policy. A story in Willamette Week on Wednesday said that Hayes has used her title as first lady and her role in advising the governor to advance her private consulting business.

Kitzhaber, a Democrat, is seeking a fourth term next month. He's the front-runner against Republican state Rep. Dennis Richardson, who has seized on the series of stories about Hayes to argue that Kitzhaber should be replaced.

"It's clear from her past history that the first lady has had no qualms with breaking the law in order to make financial gains," said Meredith Glacken, a spokeswoman for Richardson. "This is a pattern that appears to have continued in her career as a consultant and that work's conflict of interest with her official role as the first lady."

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Associated Press writers Gosia Wozniacka and Steven DuBois contributed.

Watch HuffPost Live's coverage of the story:
Gov. Kitzhaber's Fiancee Married A Man To Get Him Residency
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