Cylvia Hayes Marriage Bombshell: Fallout for Her, John Kitzhaber Uncertain

Laura Gunderson, Oregon Live, October 10, 2014

Less than 24 hours after news broke of a secret marriage, Oregon first lady Cylvia Hayes tearfully apologized to Oregonians and to her fiancé, Gov. John Kitzhaber, for accepting $5,000 to illegally marry an 18-year-old Ethiopian in need of a green card.

Hayes, now 47, said she was at a “difficult and unstable” period in her life 17 years ago when she made the decision to break federal laws.

“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,” she said. “And I cannot predict what direction this will go.”

That’s true, too, for Kitzhaber, who seeks an unprecedented fourth term in a race againstRep. Dennis Richardson, a southern Oregon Republican who has consistently polled behind the incumbent.

Political pundits on Thursday doubted Hayes’ marriage bombshell could blast Kitzhaber’s chances, yet it was the second round of headlines swirling around the first lady. Earlier in the week, a Willamette Week story questioned whether she and her Bend-based consulting firm have benefited financially from her dual role as first lady.

The Richardson campaign took pot shots on its Facebook page Wednesday:  “Apparently, contracts with the state of Oregon are for sale and payment can be made directly to the First Lady.”

Hayes has been in a relationship with Kitzhaber for 10 years, and has said she was surprised on this summer’s solstice when the 67-year-old got down on one knee on a sandy bank of the Rogue River to propose. She said Thursday that she was ashamed and embarrassed by her choices and that Kitzhaber learned about her third marriage Wednesday only after she was pressed by news reports.


The statute of limitation for criminal penalties is five years from the marriage date, meaning Hayes’ deadline passed in 2002. There’s no limitation on civil penalties, however. Hayes is likely safe from legal repercussions, yet immigration officials have the power to revoke a given status from immigrants who benefit from such deals.


Hayes said she was a struggling 29-year-old student when a mutual acquaintance proposed the deal to marry Abraham B. Abraham. He was an 18-year-old, she wrote, who had a shot at a college degree if he could gain residency. They met only a few times and never lived together.

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

She admitted in a late afternoon press conference on Thursday that she hadn’t paid income taxes on the $5,000 payment, which ultimately paid for a laptop and covered some school expenses.


Washington court records show that Hayes filed for divorce from Abraham in a King County court on Oct. 26, 2001. Abraham turned 23 that month; Hayes was 34.

Hayes’ court records show two previous divorces–from Todd Hayes on March 28, 1989, and from Doug McCarthy on Dec. 17, 1996.

She said Thursday that she has not had any contact with Abraham since their divorce was finalized in February 2002. He went on to earn a mathematics degree from Greensboro College and now owns a nice home in suburban Washington, D.C. {snip}


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