Colombia prostitution scandal sparks investigation of U.S. DEA staff

WASHINGTON Mon May 21, 2012 10:46pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A prostitution scandal in Colombia involving U.S. Secret Service and military personnel ahead of a presidential visit has spawned a separate investigation into the behavior of Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Cartagena, officials said on Monday.

A spokesman for the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General said in a statement that its investigators were probing "allegations about potential misconduct" by DEA staff.

The official would not comment on the case or say how many DEA personnel might have been implicated but said it was not directly related to the incident involving prostitutes and Secret Service members last month.

In that case, a dozen Secret Service agents and a dozen military personnel were linked to a raucous party ahead of President Barack Obama's visit to the Colombian capital that ultimately led to as many as 21 prostitutes going back to some of the hotel rooms of the U.S. delegation.

The Secret Service separately said on Monday that a 13th employee had self-reported potential misconduct while in Colombia and was placed on administrative leave. An agency spokesman did not provide further details.

Senator Susan Collins, the senior Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement that at least two DEA agents "apparently entertained female foreign national masseuses" in one of the agents' apartments in Cartagena.

The timing was not clear.

Collins said she was informed about it on May 4 and withheld comment until the employees could be removed from Colombia and questioned.

"It's disturbing that we may be uncovering a troubling culture that spans more than one law enforcement agency," Collins said in a statement.

"The evidence uncovered thus far indicates that this likely was not just a one-time incident," Collins said.

In the House of Representatives, Homeland Security Committee investigators also have been aware of the case for some time, a congressional aide said.

DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said the agency received information from the Secret Service and responded immediately by making DEA employees available for interviews.

Carreno said the DEA, a law enforcement agency under the Justice Department with personnel stationed in Colombia, was taking the matter seriously.

She did not disclose further details.

The Justice Department's office of inspector general, an independent agency watchdog, said it was coordinating with the Secret Service, the Homeland Security Department Inspector General and the State Department Diplomatic Security Service.

Eight Secret Service agents have left the agency over the scandal, one had his security clearance revoked and three were cleared.

U.S. military officials are reviewing an internal investigation of the role played by service members and have yet to determine any punishment.

(Reporting by Lily Kuo, Susan Cornwell and Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Eric Walsh and Bill Trott)

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