Story highlights

NEW: Oregon governor says his fiancee's past illegal activities are a private matter

Oregon's "first lady" Cylvia Hayes admits involvement in a plan for a pot farm in 1997

She says she associated with the "wrong kind of people" at the time

The same year she also married an immigrant for money

CNN  — 

The fiancee of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber lived on property that was to be used for growing marijuana, and married an illegal immigrant for money during a period in her life when she was “associating with the wrong kind of people and making mistakes,” according to a statement she released Tuesday.

Cylvia Hayes, 47, admitted to living on a property in Okanogan, Oregon, in 1997 that was supposed to become a marijuana growing operation, but she said it never materialized.

“I am not proud of that brief period of time - I was involved in an abusive relationship with a dangerous man,” Hayes said.

The man who sold the property to Hayes and her boyfriend told CNN affiliate KOIN that the couple stopped making payments. Public records show Hayes gave up her interest in the property in April 1998. Hayes said she did not put any money into the property.

“In the spring of 1998 I began to make plans to get away. In July 1998 I moved to Central Oregon and began building a life and career that I am very proud of,” Hayes said in a statement. She runs an environmental consulting company.

From 1997 until 2002 she was married on paper to an Ethiopian immigrant, a fact she said her husband-to-be didn’t know about until it came to light last week.

“This is the most painful part for me,” Hayes said in a news conference in Portland on Friday confirming the sham marriage. “John Kitzhaber deserved to know the history of the person he was forming a relationship with. The fact that I did not disclose this to him meant that he has learned about this in the most public and unpleasant way.”

Fraudulent green card marriages are a federal offense. Hayes said she needed the money at the time, when she was 29.

“The money I had received in July 1997 for entering a fraudulent marriage was used to purchase a laptop and pay school expenses,” she said.

Kitzhaber is running for re-election next month, and addressed his fiancee’s actions during a gubernatorial debate Tuesday evening.

“What we know is that 17 years ago, before I know Cylvia and she knew me she was involved in some illegal activity. I wish it hadn’t happened, but it did,” Kitzhaber said. “The fallout of that set of activities and how we deal with that fallout is really a personal matter between Cylvia and myself.”

Kitzhaber has already served three nonconsecutive terms. The Democrat was first elected in 1994 and remained in office until 2003. In 2010, he was elected to a third term, and he’s now seeking a fourth in a race that he has been expected to win. He won his last election with 65% of the vote.

While Kitzhaber and Hayes aren’t married, they’ve been a couple for more than a decade and engaged since this summer, according to local news reports. Hayes has been officially referred to as Oregon’s first lady during Kitzhaber’s latest term.