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Secret Service prostitute scandal may have involved Marines

1:56 PM, Apr 17, 2012   |    comments
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By Tom Vanden Brook and Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - At least 20 women, some of them prostitutes, were brought back to a Cartagena, Colombia, hotel by a traveling team of Secret Service agents and military personnel, members of Congress said they were told by the service's director Tuesday.

"Twenty or 21 women foreign nationals were brought to the hotel," Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told her. Eleven of the Americans involved were Secret Service, she reported, and "allegedly Marines were involved with the rest."

Meanwhile, Sullivan told Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, that the 11 Secret Service agents and officers were telling different stories to investigators about who the women were. Sullivan has dispatched more investigators to Colombia to interview the women, King said.

"Some are admitting (the women) were prostitutes, others are saying they're not, they're just women they met at the hotel bar," King said in a telephone interview. Sullivan said none of the women, who had to surrender their IDs at the hotel, were minors. "But prostitutes or not, to be bringing a foreign national back into a secure zone is a problem," King said.

An officer from Southern Command, the Pentagon's headquarters for operations in South America, arrived in Colombia on Monday night to start investigating the involvement of U.S. troops in the hiring of prostitutes in advance of President Obama's visit there last week, said Army Col. Scott Malcom, a spokesman.

It's unclear how many military personnel were involved, Malcom said, but there is evidence that at least 10 have been troops. The initial investigation found that some of the troops had violated their curfew, he said. That could mean they were not in their rooms when required or had an unauthorized person in the room, he said.

All of the troops have returned to Florida, where Southern Command is based, Malcom said.

It's unclear how long the investigator will take to complete the probe, Malcom said.

"He's got to follow wherever it leads," Malcom said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that Sullivan, "acted swiftly" to launch an investigation in response to the incident and continues to hold the president's confidence.

Carney declined to comment on whether the incident reflects a broader cultural problem within the Secret Service. "There's an investigation that we should let take its course before speculating about its conclusions," Carney said.

King said his panel has "jurisdiction. We have begun investigating and then will decide whether it is necessary to have a hearing."

Sullivan met with King and other members of Congress Tuesday to update them on the course of the Secret Service investigation.

ABC News reported that Secret Service personnel who are under investigation "were partying at a Cartagena brothel called the Pley Club," and boasting that they were in Colombia to protect Obama.

"The men were drinking heavily during their night out and enlisted the services of the club's prostitutes, according to a bouncer at the club and a police source," ABC reported.

"Sources tell ABC News several of the men agreed to pay for, and received, services from the 'highest category' prostitutes available at the club, who charge upward of $200," the report said.

Later, at a hotel in Cartagena, an argument over the charges led to the incident becoming public.

Both the Secret Service and the Pentagon are investigating the alleged actions of members who helped set up security for Obama's trip last weekend to the Summit of the Americas.

The 11 Secret Service agents and uniformed officers who were recalled from Colombia have had their security clearances revoked, CBS News reported.

Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that he is awaiting the results of what he hopes are thorough investigations.

"I do think that what is going on is very embarrassing," Boehner he said. "I hope they get to the bottom of it quickly."

Although Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Sunday that further investigation may be needed, he has not announced that his panel will conduct a probe.

Contributing: David Jackson, Susan Davis and the Associated Press.

USA TODAY

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