WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Thirteen employees of the U.S. Secret Service were entangled in a prostitution scandal in Colombia earlier this year but their actions did not compromise the safety of the president, a Department of Homeland Security investigation found.
In a letter to members of Congress obtained by Reuters on Friday, acting Homeland Security Inspector General Charles Edwards summarized his agency’s findings after an investigation into the biggest scandal to hit the Secret Service.
A dozen Secret Service employees were accused of misconduct for bringing women, some of them prostitutes, back to their hotel rooms in Colombia in April ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to Cartagena. At least seven of the Secret Service employees have left the agency since the scandal was uncovered.
“Although we found that these agents engaged in misconduct, our investigation developed no evidence to suggest that the actions of (U.S. Secret Service) personnel in Cartagena compromised the safety and security of the president or any sensitive information during this trip,” Edwards wrote.
The letter was sent to the members of Congress in advance of a briefing on the investigation. In his letter Edwards said his office would not disclose the investigative report or discuss it publicly.
Edwards said the Inspector General’s office interviewed or attempted to interview 251 Secret Service personnel and reviewed travel records, hotel registries and cables as well as personnel assignments and Secret Service and U.S. Embassy documents.
Based on the review and interviews, he said his office could identify 13 Secret Service employees who “had personal encounters” with Colombian women at two hotels and a private residence.
Six of the women were paid by the Secret Service employees, four asked for money but were not paid and three left the hotel rooms without asking for money, Edwards said. Prostitution is legal in Colombia.
One of the women who was paid was initially refused payment but she brought a Colombian police officer to the door of the Secret Service employee’s room. When he did not answer the door, a different Secret Service employee paid her, the letter said.
A hotel registry showed that a Defense Department employee working with the White House Communication Agency and another person possibly affiliated with the White House advance operation also might have had contact with foreign nationals, the letter said.
But a White House review concluded that no members of the advance team engaged in inappropriate conduct during Obama’s trip to Colombia, a White House official said.
Senator Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Homeland Security committee, said she was troubled about the different conclusions on possible involvement by White House staff and said it raised concerns about the credibility of the White House investigation.
The U.S. military has completed a separate report about a dozen U.S. military service members who brought Colombian women to their hotel rooms in Cartagena. The military has said it was not pursuing criminal charges against the service members but was pursuing lesser punishments instead.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Deborah Charles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker