DEA clams up on status of three agents in Colombia prostitution scandal

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Photo - People walk past Hotel El Caribe in Cartagena, Colombia, one of several sites linked to a prostitution scandal involving U.S. Secret Service and Drug Enforcement Agency employees in April 2012 just before President Obama visited the country  for the Summit of the Americas conference. (AP Photo/Pedro Mendoza)
People walk past Hotel El Caribe in Cartagena, Colombia, one of several sites linked to a prostitution scandal involving U.S. Secret Service and Drug Enforcement Agency employees in April 2012 just before President Obama visited the country for the Summit of the Americas conference. (AP Photo/Pedro Mendoza)
News,Watchdog,Richard Pollock

Drug Enforcement Administration officials are refusing to answer questions today about why three DEA officers involved in the Cartagena, Colombia, prostitution scandal are still on the federal payroll.

On Friday, DEA spokesman Lawrence R. Payne told The Washington Examiner that "this matter is currently under review by the Board of Professional Conduct."

But Payne declined to discuss any aspect of the case when pressed for details today.

The DEA agents are accused of procuring and paying a prostitute for a Secret Service supervisor, lying to investigators about their roles in the incident, destroying evidence and obstructing an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General.

Even so, the three are still on the federal payroll, according to Michael Horowitz, the DOJ IG, who disclosed the fact last week during a hearing before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

"My understanding is that all three are still officially employees of the DEA," Horowitz told the panel, which oversee the budgets for DOJ and DEA.

"And they are still on the job a year later," replied subcommittee chairman Frank Wolf, R-VA. "That's just not a good thing."

The Secret Service prostitution scandal erupted last April when 12 Secret Service agents traveled to Cartagena, Colombia, to advance a trip by President Obama to address an international summit there. Prostitution is legal in Colombia, but federal workers are subject to ethics laws and regulations no matter where they are stationed.

In contrast to the DEA case, nine of the 12 Secret Service agents resigned or retired within a month of the April, 2012, incident. Three were cleared of any wrongdoing.

But Horowitz told the Wolf panel last week that DOJ officials have on more than one occasion failed to discipline employee misconduct quickly and uniformly. The DEA is part of DOJ, while the Secret Service is a unit of the Department of Homeland Security.

"In some instances we've had concerns about the speed with which they have prosecuted" employees, he said.

In a report issued last November, Horowitz said DOJ failed to ensure that all employees, including those at the DEA, "are held to the same tough but fair standards."

Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, said the situation was an unfortunate reminder that "somehow the civil service rules don't protect whistleblowers, yet they do seem to protect those who are accused of unethical conduct."

A separate DOJ IG report given last December to senators Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, described the DEA agents as having procured and paid for a prostitute on behalf of a Supervisory Special Agent doing advance work for the Obama trip to Colombia.

The three DEA agents were stationed full time in Colombia. The DEA agents held high level security clearances.

The DOJ IG said the three agents lied to investigators until they were confronted with witness statements and phone records from their Blackberry devices.

One of the agents had deleted data from his Blackberry phones when investigators had asked him to surrender it. A second agent "wiped" all data from his device.

Another of the agents told investigators "he was intoxicated on the night of the encounter and was unable to recall specifically his involvement."

Horowitz presented the case to DOJ officials but they declined to prosecute it, a decision with which the IG said he concurred. He then turned it over to DEA for what actions agency officials decided were appropriate.

Richard Pollock is a member of The Washington Examiner Watchdog investigative reporting team. He can be reached at rpollock@washingtonexaminer.com.

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