The fiancée of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) admitted on Thursday that she accepted $5,000 nearly two decades ago in exchange for marrying an Ethiopian man to help him obtain residency in the U.S.
Cylvia Hayes, who got engaged to Kitzhaber over the summer, used the money to pay for a laptop and school expenses, The Oregonian reported on Thursday. Hayes married Abraham Abraham in 1997 when she was 29 and he was 18. Their divorce was finalized in 2002.
Hayes apologized for the “serious mistake” at a press conference on Thursday and said Kitzhaber, who she has known for 10 years, didn’t know about her previous marriage until this week. Hayes said she kept the marriage secret because she was embarrassed.
“My decision to marry illegally felt very, very distant and far removed from the life I was building," Hayes wrote in a statement to The Oregonian on Thursday. "I was ashamed and embarrassed. Therefore I did not share this information even with John once we met and started dating."
Hayes said she asked Kitzhaber not to attend her press conference.
Kitzhaber is running for his fourth term as governor. According to HuffPost Pollster, he leads his Republican opponent, state Rep. Dennis Richardson, by 10.4 percentage points.
It is unclear whether Hayes could face penalties for the marriage, but she said she was prepared to accept them.
CORRECTION: This article has been edited to correct the ages of Hayes and Abraham when they were married. She was 29 at the time and he was 18.