A call from the Hay-Adams hotel this past spring reporting that a Secret Service agent was trying to force his way into a woman’s room set in motion an internal investigation that has sent tremors through an agency still trying to restore its elite reputation.
The incident came a year after the agency was roiled by a prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, prompting vows from senior officials to curb a male-dominated culture of hard partying and other excesses.
The service named its first female director, Julia Pierson, seven months ago, and an extensive inspector general report on the agency’s culture launched in the wake of the Cartagena scandal is expected to be released in coming weeks.
The disruption at the Hay-
Adams in May involved Ignacio Zamora Jr., a senior supervisor who oversaw about two dozen agents in the Secret Service’s most elite assignment — the president’s security detail. Zamora was allegedly discovered attempting to reenter a woman’s room after accidentally leaving behind a bullet from his service weapon. The incident has not been previously reported.
In a follow-up investigation, agency officials also found that Zamora and another supervisor, Timothy Barraclough, had sent sexually suggestive e-mails to a female subordinate, according to those with knowledge of the case. Officials have removed Zamora from his position and moved Barraclough off the detail to a separate part of the division, people familiar with the case said.
Details about the Hay-Adams episode and related findings were provided by four people who have been briefed on the case, including two who have viewed summaries of the internal Secret Service review.
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan declined to comment on the internal review of the Hay-
Adams incident or the supervisors’ alleged behavior. He said that no employees — including Zamora and Barraclough — wished to comment.
An attorney for Zamora and Barraclough also declined to comment on the allegations or the Secret Service’s internal inquiry. Messages left for Zamora on his home phone were not returned; efforts to reach Barraclough through home and fax numbers were unsuccessful. An attorney for the female agent in the protective division declined to comment.
“We have always maintained that the Secret Service has a professional and dedicated workforce,” Donovan said in a statement, referring to the Hay-Adams incident. “Periodically we have isolated incidents of misconduct, just like every organization does.”
Donovan added that “we work diligently with our Office of Professional Responsibility and Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General” to resolve such cases “appropriately and quickly.”
But the inspector general’s office was unaware of the hotel incident or the related findings until The Washington Post began making inquiries about the case last month, according to people briefed on the matter.
The Secret Service did not refer the case to the inspector general until the week of Oct. 28. In a preliminary look, the office concluded that the Secret Service had handled the case administratively and that the alleged misconduct did not require independent review, according to a person familiar with the referral.
Bill Hillburg, a spokesman for the DHS Office of Inspector General, said the upcoming report on Secret Service culture seeks to answer whether the antics of agents in Cartagena were atypical or the result of a broader culture that included excessive partying and womanizing. Hillburg declined to say whether the Hay-Adams case was part of the review.
“At each stage, as we conducted interviews, we were made aware of other incidents and potential misconduct that we are now pursuing,” Hillburg said.
The Hay-Adams, which overlooks the White House and served as the Obama family’s temporary home before the president’s first inauguration, is accustomed to seeing Secret Service agents on and off duty. One night in May, hotel staff alerted the White House about odd behavior by an agent demanding access to one of their guest rooms.
Colette Marquez, the Hay-Adams’s general manager, declined to comment when asked about the incident.
According to the Secret Service’s internal findings, Zamora was off duty when he met a woman at the hotel’s Off the Record bar and later joined her in her room.
The review found that Zamora had removed ammunition from the chamber of his government-issued handgun during his stay in the room and then left behind a single bullet. He returned to the room when he realized his mistake. The guest refused to let him back in. Zamora identified himself to hotel security as a Secret Service agent.
The incident led to an investigation that included a routine search of Zamora’s government-issued BlackBerry, which contained sexually charged messages to the female agent, according to the people briefed on the findings.
The review of the communications revealed that Barraclough also had sent inappropriate and suggestive messages to the female agent, according to people familiar with the case.
The Post is not disclosing the woman’s name because, according to the people briefed on the findings, she has not been disciplined.
All Secret Service employees must maintain top-secret security clearances to be employed. An inspector general’s report this year that dealt with events in Cartagena said employees’ sexual behavior should be considered in granting or revoking security clearances “when the behavior may subject the individual to coercion, exploitation, or duress, or reflects lack of judgment or discretion.”
Zamora, a veteran agent who had risen to become a shift commander at the top rungs of Obama’s protective detail, previously headed first lady Laura Bush’s protective detail. Barraclough joined the presidential protective detail four years ago.
Zamora is described by those who have worked with him as a professional, sometimes brash agent who formerly led the agency’s Mexico City office. In Bush’s memoir, she called Zamora one of a handful of agents she relied on to keep her safe just after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Zamora was promoted to the president’s protective division several years ago, most recently serving as a shift supervisor overseeing the rotating assignments of about two dozen agents, according to two people who have worked with him.
The new incidents echo some of the elements of the most damaging scandal in the service’s history, in which male agents brought prostitutes back to their rooms in Cartagena after a night of heavy drinking in April 2012. An agency that had a reputation as the creme de la creme of law enforcement was suddenly the subject of congressional hearings, multiple investigations and questions about whether it had fostered a male-dominated culture of sexism and partying.
Then-Director Mark Sullivan apologized for the scandal but called it an anomaly in an agency of 3,500 agents and 1,400 uniformed officers. In the wake of that incident, the agency adopted new policies banning the consumption of alcohol 10 hours before employees report to work and limiting consumption to “moderate amounts” during off-duty hours. Agents and officers cannot drink alcohol when stationed at the hotel of the public official they are assigned to protect.
Sullivan stepped down this year, giving Obama an opening to pick a woman to head the agency for the first time. People familiar with the agency said Pierson has been focused largely on budget issues, as the agency deals with government-wide spending cuts.
Alice Crites contributed to this report.