Published December 20, 2015
First she admitted being part of a fraudulent green-card marriage -- now, a new report says Cylvia Hayes, fiancée of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, partnered to buy land intended for an illegal marijuana growing operation in 1997.
KOIN-TV reported late Monday that Hayes partnered with a man to buy the $245,000 property in Washington state using a $15,000 down payment in November of that year. The man who sold the couple the land told the station that Hayes and her partner soon stopped making payments, and records showed that Hayes gave up her interest in the property in April 1998. She moved to Oregon three months later.
Hayes issued a statement saying that she was "not proud of that brief period of time" and claimed that "I was involved in an abusive relationship with a dangerous man." KION reports that the ex-boyfriend, whose name has not been released, has a history of domestic violence convictions.
Last week, Hayes admitted that she was paid to enter a fraudulent marriage to help an Ethiopian immigrant remain in the United States, also in 1997. She's also under fire for earning money from organizations seeking to influence state policy.
The man who sold Hayes and her then-boyfriend the land, a real estate broker named Patrick Siemion, told KOIN, "There was somewhat of a leader-follower [dynamic] there, and she was leading and the gentleman was following."
"She did all the talking, all the negotiating," Siemion told The Oregonian. "I remember her saying, `Oh this is just the perfect place, we're so happy to have it.'"
Hayes said she was never financially involved in the marijuana grow, and shortly after moving there "began to make plans to get away.
"I did not pay any part of the down payment or mortgage payments," she said. "I had no money. The money I had received in July 1997 for entering a fraudulent marriage was used as I have previously stated -- to purchase a laptop and pay school expenses."
Siemion told The Oregonian that he found marijuana trimmings in an upstairs bedroom after the property went into foreclosure. He said he did not see marijuana plants, but found fertilizer and irrigation tubing that he considered evidence of a grow.
Hayes got engaged over the summer to Kitzhaber, the Democratic governor who is seeking a fourth term in next month's election.
Kitzhaber's Republican rival, state Rep. Dennis Richardson, has tried to keep the focus on Hayes' consulting work, arguing that Hayes' outside work is part of a pattern of missteps that show Kitzhaber's administration is "inept and unethical."
Kitzhaber on Monday asked a state commission for a formal opinion on whether Hayes is subject to state ethics laws and, if so, whether she's broken them.
Kitzhaber says his office has taken care to make sure that Hayes' consulting work doesn't pose a conflict of interest, including proactively reviewing her contracts before she agreed to work. But all three contracts made public by the governor's office were reviewed only after they went into effect.
A decision by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission is unlikely to come before the election. The commission can take up to 120 days to respond, and there are no scheduled meetings before the Nov. 4 election.
Before Kitzhaber was elected governor, Hayes ran a consulting business, 3E Strategies, that worked on renewable energy issues. As first lady, she's taken a public and active role, advising the governor on energy policy while advocating programs that reduce hunger and poverty. She's uncompensated and has continued her outside consulting.
The governor's office has released copies of three contracts from 2013 worth nearly $86,000, along with draft and final conflict disclosure forms. The drafts, dated in July 2013, suggest Hayes couldn't use her first lady title in her consulting work or any state facilities, including Mahonia Hall, the governor's official residence.
But the final versions of the documents include exceptions, allowing Hayes to call herself first lady in "a biographical profile" and use Mahonia Hall for meetings on contracts already obtained.
Rachel Wray, a spokeswoman for Kitzhaber's office, said the documents were changed after Hayes "asked for clarification."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.