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Secret Service thoroughly investigated prostitution scandal, say DHS auditors

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Homeland Security Department auditors say the Secret Service investigation of its April 2012 Colombian prostitution scandal was "expeditious and thorough."

Because prostitution is legally tolerated in parts of the seaside town of Cartagena, the Secret Service's decision to undertake an administrative rather than a criminal investigation "was the appropriate course of action," departmental auditors also say in a Jan. 24 report (.pdf). The Secret Service Inspection Division's entire staff of 24 inspectors, support personnel and managers became involved in probing the affair.

Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan learned of the prostitute cavorting allegations within an hour of the Miami field office receiving notice of them, the report says. An unpaid prostitute who had sex with an agent – who later went on Colombian television and identified herself as Dania Suarez – summoned local police, starting a chain of events that led to the State Departmental deputy regional security officer contacting Secret Service managers. 

Within 11 hours of learning of the incident, which took place at the Hotel Caribe in Cartagena, Secret Service managers interviewed 12 agents whose hotel registration showed overnight female guests; in less than 24 hours, Sullivan ordered 11 of them suspended from protective detail and returned to the United States, auditors say. The twelfth was cleared of wrongdoing in Colombia.

Secret Service and other federal and military personnel were in Cartagena ahead of President Obama's attendance there of the triennial Summit of the Americas. Ultimately, two agents were fired, six resigned and one retired, CBS News reported in April.

Over the course of its investigation, the Inspection Division interviewed 232 subjects and witnesses, sent four inspectors to Colombia to interview the prostitutes with whom agents had sex, and administered 14 polygraph examinations, DHS auditors say. In the weeks following the incident, the internal affairs organization also requested "a U.S. intelligence agency check for derogatory information on the foreign nationals involved."

A separate Defense Department investigation also found 12 military personnel involved in the scandal. Two Navy personnel will undergo a court martial while seven Army soldiers and two Marines have receives non-judicial punishment; an Air Force service member received an administrative reprimand, according to a Jan. 11 Southern Command statement.

For more:
- download the DHS OIG report, 13-24 (.pdf)

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