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Investigators: Former first lady violated ethics laws

The Oregon Ethics Commission will consider findings from investigators that former First Lady Cylvia Hayes violated state ethics laws by using her public position for private gain.

PAMPLIN FILE PHOTO - Former Oregon First Lady Cylvia HayesFormer First Lady Cylvia Hayes violated several state ethics laws when she used her public position and state staff and resources to win a paid fellowship and contracts for her environmental consulting firm between 2011 and 2013, state investigators have concluded.

Investigators with the Oregon Ethics Commission and the state Department of Justice outlined their findings in an ethics investigation report, released early Wednesday.

The Oregon Ethics Commission is set to consider the report Friday and determine whether to impose fines of up to $5,000 per violation.

Lisa Hay, Hayes's public defender, said that the then-first lady was in an unprecedented position when she took public office as she was an unmarried partner of the governor, was not supported by him, kept her own residence and had to work to support herself.

"Cylvia attempted in good faith to define her role as both the first lady and as a consultant in order to understand the boundaries of each," Hay wrote in a response to the findings. "She frequently sought advice. Any errors in adhering to state ethics rules or statutes were the result of confusion within the administration, mistakes and the lack of clear guidelines for an unmarried partner and not due to criminal intent to commit fraud."

Hayes and former Gov. John Kitzhaber have been under an ethics investigation since July.

They had been under a federal criminal investigation for more than two years before that, after Willamette Week reported the first lady may have used her position to win several consulting contracts. The scandal eventually prompted Kitzhaber to resign from office in February 2015 and led to former Secretary of State Kate Brown's succession as governor.

Federal prosecutors ultimately filed no charges against the couple. By the time the federal investigation had concluded, the statute of limitation had run out for any state charges.

In November, the ethics commission rejected a proposed settlement with Kitzhaber in which he agreed to pay $1,000 for ethics violations related to conflicts of interest and accepting gifts with value of more than $50. A majority of commissioners said they felt the settlement was too lenient.

The ethics commission is scheduled to reconsider his case next month.

This story will be updated.

Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
email: pachen@portlandtribune.com
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