Several of the implicated agents have told associates that the facts of what happened in Cartagena differ from initial media accounts describing a group outing of a dozen men in search of prostitutes. Instead, the men went to different bars and clubs and met women under a variety of circumstances, in some cases resulting in voluntary trysts that did not involve money.
One 29-year-old field agent assigned to the Washington office, who is single and who resigned under the threat of being fired, told investigators in a polygraph examination that he did not think at the time that the two women he brought back to his hotel room were prostitutes. He is among those seeking to overturn their dismissals, according to three people familiar with his case.
The scandal has badly damaged the Secret Service’s reputation, and the fallout has spread to other federal agencies. A dozen members of the military also are accused of hiring prostitutes on the trip, and the Drug Enforcement Administration is looking into allegations, made by a Secret Service agent during the investigation, that DEA members had previously brought prostitutes to their apartments in Cartagena.
According to interviews with multiple former and current employees and people briefed on the inquiry, the Secret Service agents involved brought women to their hotel rooms without hesitation. The agency says it was clear that employees should not do anything unbecoming of a Secret Service employee. Current and former agency employees say sexual encounters during official travel had been condoned under an unwritten code that allows what happens on the road to stay there.
They also contend that this tolerance is part of the “Secret Circus” — a mocking nickname that some employees use to describe what ensues when large numbers of agents and officers arrive in a city.
Shortly after landing in Cartagena at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, April 11, the 55 or so Secret Service members had down time to explore the Caribbean resort. They were there to provide extra security for Obama’s visit for an international summit but had two days before the commander in chief arrived. In Cartagena, prostitution is legal in designated “tolerance zones.”
Secret Service supervisor David Chaney, 48, had spent two decades with the agency and was among the most senior on the plane. He headed out that night to a strip club called the Pley Club, with junior agents in tow, according to two people with knowledge of the events.