*VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff*
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Marty Robbins old hometown, Glendale Arizona--a suburb of Phoenix.
" YU NUMBA TEN, JOE"!!!!!!
April 18, 2012
Woman Recounts Quarrel Leading to Agent Scandal
By WILLIAM NEUMAN and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
CARTAGENA, Colombia — A Secret Service agent preparing for President Obama’s arrival at an international summit meeting and a single mother from Colombia who makes a living as a high-priced escort faced off in a room at the Hotel Caribe a week ago over how much he owed her for the previous night’s intercourse. “I tell him, ‘Baby, my cash money,’ ” the woman said in her first public comments on a dispute that would soon spiral into a full-blown scandal.
The disagreement over her price — he offered $30 for services she thought they had agreed were worth more than 25 times that — set off a tense early morning quarrel in the hallway of the luxury hotel involving the woman, another prostitute, Colombian police officers arguing on the women’s behalf and American federal agents who tried but failed to keep the matter from escalating.
On Wednesday, in a setback to the reputation of those who protect the president, the Secret Service prepared to fire one supervisor tied to the alleged misconduct with prostitutes on the Cartagena trip, the agency said in a statement. Another supervisor has decided to retire, and a third employee will be allowed to resign, the statement said. Eight other employees remain under investigation.
“These guys have the clearest cases,” said a government official briefed on the investigation, referring to the three who are being pushed out.
The employees under scrutiny have been asked to take lie detector tests; only one has agreed to do so, the official said. The supervisor who is being fired has threatened to sue, Mark Sullivan, the director of the Secret Service, has told officials.
Sitting in her living room wearing a short jean skirt, high-heeled espadrilles and a spandex top with a plunging neckline, the prostitute described how she and another woman were approached by a group of American men at a discotheque. In an account consistent with the official version of events coming out of Washington, but could not be independently confirmed, she said the men bought a bottle of Absolut vodka for the table and when that was finished bought a second one.
“They never told me they were with Obama,” she said, addressing published reports that some agents may have openly boasted to prostitutes that they were there protecting the president. “They were very discreet.”
A taxi driver who picked up the woman at the Hotel Caribe the morning of the encounter said he heard her and another woman recount the dispute over payment. When approached by a reporter for The New York Times, the woman was initially reluctant to speak about what had occurred. As she nervously told her story, a friend gave details that seemed to corroborate her account.
There was a language gap between the woman, 24, who declined to give her full name, and the American man who sat beside her at the bar and eventually invited her to his room. She agreed, stopped on the way to buy condoms but told him he would have to give her a gift. He asked how much. Not knowing he worked for Mr. Obama but figuring he was a well-heeled foreigner, she said, she told him $800.
The price alone, she said, indicates she is an escort, not a prostitute. “You have higher rank,” she said. “An escort is someone who a man can take out to dinner. She can dress nicely, wear nice makeup, speak and act like a lady. That’s me.”
By 6:30 the next morning, after being awoken by a telephone call from the hotel front desk reminding her that, under the hotel’s rules for prostitutes, she had to leave, whatever deal the two had agreed on had broken down. She recalled that the man told her he had been drunk when they discussed the price. He countered with an offer of 50,000 pesos, the equivalent of about $30.
Disgusted with such a low amount, she pressed the matter. He became angry, ordered her out of the room and called her an expletive, she said.
She said she was crying and went across the hall, where another escort had spent the night with an American man from the same group. Both women began trying to get the money.
They knocked on the door but got no response. She threatened to call the police, but the man’s friend, who appeared on the scene, begged her not to, saying they did not want trouble. Finally, she said, she left to go home but came across a police officer stationed in the hallway, who called in an English-speaking colleague.
He accompanied her back to the room and the dispute escalated. Two other Americans from the club emerged from their rooms and stood guard in front of their friend’s locked door. The two Colombian officers tried to argue the woman’s case.
A hotel security officer arrived. Eventually, she lowered her demand to $250, which she said was the amount she has to pay the man who helps find her customers. Eager to resolve the matter fast, the American men eventually gave her a combination of dollars and pesos worth about $225, and she left.
It was only days later, once a friend she had shared her story with called to say that the dispute had made the television news, that she learned that the man was a Secret Service agent.
She is dismayed, she said, that the news reports described her as a prostitute, as if she walks the streets picking up just anyone.
“It’s the same, but it’s different,” she said, indicating that she is much more selective about her clients and charges much more than a streetwalker. “It’s like when you buy a fine rum or a BlackBerry or an iPhone. They have a different price.”
The woman veered between anger and fear as she told of her misadventure. “I’m scared,” she said, indicating that she did not want the man she spent the night with to get into any trouble but feared that he might retaliate.
“This is something really big,” she said. “This is the government of the United States. I have nervous attacks. I cry all the time.”
The Secret Service declined to comment on the woman’s account, but a United States official who has been briefed on the inquiry said the details were generally consistent with what agents have said. “On the whole, it’s pretty accurate,” the official said, indicating that the woman at the center of the dispute at the hotel had not yet been interviewed.
The Secret Service has expanded its investigation to look at its employees’ conduct on previous presidential trips, the person briefed on the investigation said. So far, investigators have not uncovered anything similar to what apparently happened in Colombia last week, the person said.
Besides the 11 Secret Service personnel, 10 military personnel, including explosives experts and dog handlers, are under scrutiny in a separate Pentagon investigation, officials said.
“There was no evidence that these women were seeking these guys out — that they were waiting for Secret Service agents — but all of that is being looked into,” said Representative Peter T. King, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Mr. King, a New York Republican, who was briefed on the matter this week by Mr. Sullivan, said the Secret Service agents at the hotel had provided conflicting reports about the night’s events. “Some of them were saying they didn’t know they were prostitutes,” he said. “Some are saying they were women at the bar. I understand that there was quite a bit of drinking.”
“I fully support what Mark is doing,” Mr. King said of Mr. Sullivan. “I know that he wanted to take strong action once he had a legal basis.”
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the senior Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said the woman’s account generally comported with what Secret Service officials said occurred. But she noted differences in some details, including the specifics of the amount of money in dispute. “It helps the Secret Service if in fact the guy did not identify himself,” said Ms. Collins, who has raised concerns about a potential security breach.
In a letter to Mr. Sullivan, Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and the committee’s ranking member, Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, said the Secret Service personnel in Colombia had brought “foreign nationals into contact with sensitive security information” and were potentially exposed to “blackmail and other forms of potential compromise.”
Mr. Issa and Mr. Cummings listed 10 requests for information that they want answered by May 1. “Your swift and decisive action in response to this scandal has given us confidence that the agency will complete a thorough investigation and take steps to ensure that similar lapses in judgment will never again jeopardize the important work of the U.S. Secret Service,” the representatives said.
As for cooperating with the investigators for the Secret Service who are seeking to interview the prostitutes as well as witnesses from the bar and outside the hotel room, the woman who was involved in the payment dispute said she was not interested in that. She said she was planning to leave Cartagena soon.
William Neuman reported from Cartagena, Colombia, and Michael S. Schmidt from Washington. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.