WASHINGTON — Eleven Secret Service agents and five members of the U.S. military working on a security team preparing for President Obama’s arrival at a regional summit in Colombia were under investigation Saturday for apparent misconduct involving prostitutes.
The incident occurred early Thursday at the Hotel Caribe, a historic beachfront hotel where the advance team was staying in the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena.
The episode began when police and hotel personnel began checking hotel rooms as part of the strict security surrounding the weekend Summit of the Americas, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation.
Several visitors had not left identification with the front desk as required, prompting the room checks, the official said. It was then that a Secret Service agent was found with a woman believed to be a prostitute in his room.
Other Secret Service agents also had women in their rooms who were believed to be prostitutes, the official said. Prostitution is legal in certain “tolerance” areas in Colombia, and Cartagena has a large red light district.
Checks of the rooms also revealed U.S. military personnel with unauthorized visitors, a military official briefed on the incident said.
A dispute between one of the women and a Secret Service agent over whether she should be paid created a disturbance, andthe U.S. Embassyultimately was notified.
The 11 Secret Service agents were relieved of duty and flown home Friday before Obama arrived in Cartagena. The group included special agents and uniformed division officers, none of whom are assigned to the president’s protective detail.
The agents were interviewed Saturday by the service’s Office of Professional Responsibility and placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation, officials said.
“This incident is not reflective of the behavior of our personnel as they travel every day throughout the country and the world performing their duties in a dedicated, professional manner,” Paul S. Morrissey, a Secret Service spokesman, said in a statement. “We regret any distraction from the Summit of the Americas this situation has caused.”
Five military personnel with the U.S. Southern Command, who also were assigned to the advance team, violated curfew and may have been involved in “inappropriate conduct,” a military official said.
The five were confined to quarters in Cartagena on Saturday. None of the agents or military personnel was publicly identified.
Two enlisted men assigned to a military working dog unit attached to the Secret Service were found to have visitors in their rooms. But an initial investigation concluded that the women were not prostitutes, the military official said, and the two soldiers were permitted to remain in the security detail.
It could not be learned whether the two soldiers were among the five who violated curfew. But a spokesman for the Southern Command said violating curfew included having someone in a hotel room without permission.
Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of the Southern Command, said in a statement that he was “disappointed by the entire incident and that this behavior is not in keeping with the professional standards expected of members of the United States military.”
Fraser said the military would conduct an investigation and the personnel would face appropriate punishment. Meanwhile, the military service members were under orders not to have contact with other individuals and will return to the U.S. after the completion of their mission at the summit.
The embarrassing episode threatened to mar Obama’s meetings with 32 fellow leaders from the Caribbean and North, Central and South America.
Jay Carney, the president’s spokesman, said the White House was told of the incident on Thursday and the president was informed Friday. Carney refused to characterize Obama’s reaction but said the incident wasn’t distracting the president at the summit.
“I think it has been much more of a distraction for the press,” Carney said.
Times staff writer Christi Parsons in Cartagena contributed to this report.