Four months after she accepted $5,000 to marry an 18-year-old Ethiopian immigrant in need of a green card, Cylvia Hayes purchased a remote Washington property with the intention of creating an illegal marijuana farm, Oregon's first lady-to-be admitted Monday.
In her second apology statement in less than a week, the fiancee of Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber explained she was in an "abusive relationship" with a "dangerous man" in 1997 when they decided to cohabitate on land "intended to be the site of a marijuana grow operation that never materialized." It wasn't the same man to whom she was illegally married at the time.
The pair bought the property for $245,000, committing to a $15,000 down payment. Hayes, whose rags-to-riches story has been well documented, says she was "never financially involved" with the investment and never contributed mortgage payments.
Patrick Siemion, who sold the couple the property, recalled to Portland, Oregon, CBS affiliate KOIN a more active role by Hayes: "There was somewhat of a leader/follower there, and she was leading and the gentleman was following," he said. "She did all the talking, all the negotiating. I remember her saying, 'Oh this is just the perfect place, we're so happy to have it.'"
Siemion reportedly laughed at Hayes's suggestion that the operation "never materialized."
"They had been growing marijuana," he said. "There was a very large pool table in the log house and it was covered with what people call a shake, when they trim plants, it was covered with that. And then I went out into the outbuilding and there was a full smorgasbord apparatus for drip irrigation, and marijuana specific fertilizers etc. etc."
Hayes said in her statement she is "not proud of that brief period of time" - another blemish in her colorful past that could stand to knock Kitzhaber out of his solid lead. She explicitly preempted any speculation that her marriage to an immigrant she only met a handful of times and her involvement in the marijuana operation were related.
"I had no money," she said. "The money I had received in July 1997 for entering a fraudulent marriage was used as I have previously stated - to purchase a lap top and pay school expenses."
Hayes has called her marriage one of "convenience" while she was struggling to muster college funds. "He needed help, and I needed financial support," she said. She only told Kitzhaber about the sham arrangement when a Portland newspaper came knocking with questions.
Kitzhaber was "stunned and he was hurt" when he found out, but offered his support in a "beautiful, loving way," Hayes said.
"[He] deserved to know the history of the person he is forming a relationship with," she said. "That 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."
Though they just announced their engagement in August, Kitzhaber has routinely referred to Hayes as the Beaver State's "first lady." A private energy consultant herself, Hayes has been active in helping to develop Kitzhaber's energy and environmental policy platforms - a role that's drummed up some scrutiny as to whether it poses a conflict of interest.
On Monday, Kitzhaber asked the Oregon Ethics Commission to review Hayes' public and private work to see whether she improperly used her status in the governor's office to progress her consulting busness.
With the benefit of home field advantage in a blue state, Kitzhaber will still likely enjoy an easy reelection next month. Recent polls show him in a healthy lead against his Republican challenger, state Rep. Dennis Richardson.