- Associated Press - Sunday, April 22, 2012

CARTAGENA, Colombia (AP) — The Secret Service sex scandal has spawned X-rated jokes, inspired a spicy song set to a local Caribbean beat, and made an unlikely celebrity of a 42-year-old taxi driver who lives with his mother and now seems to be in hiding.

With no other decent leads locally, scoop-hungry journalists fought all week for the favor of Jose Pena, the president of the Hotel Caribe taxi stand, who happened to drive home the prostitute who set the scandal in motion.

Fiercely competitive reporters from tabloids to TV networks accused one another of bidding up Mr. Pena’s fees. He would disappear for hours in the employ of one or another, the spurned reporters redialing him incessantly and filling his voice mailbox with entreaties.

It was Mr. Pena, after all, who led journalists to the whitewashed, two-family house on a quiet cul-de-sac on the edge of town where he said the woman lived with her 9-year-old son. And he described how the woman told him a Secret Service agent refused to pay her full fee and locked his door at the five-star hotel the morning of April 12.

“He’s the most important man in the world this week,” joked fellow taxi driver William Jimenez.

Colombians had riotous fun at the Americans’ expense on Twitter and Facebook, with one wag tying the charge that one of the agents had tried to shortchange one of the prostitutes with the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, the implementation of which was announced just after the summit:

“I don’t think any mistake was made. They thought that now that the FTA was approved, there was no need to pay tariffs.”

There was also a sense of indignation.

“It’s pretty clear that they want to treat Latin America as a brothel,” the Colombian newsmagazine Semana quoted one tweet as saying about the U.S. agents.

The scandal broke after police and hotel security workers were called into the dispute between the woman and the agent over money.

Soon, 11 agents were headed back to the U.S. to face misconduct charges. Six have since lost their jobs, and the U.S. military is separately investigating 11 servicemen. U.S. investigators have determined that about 20 Colombian women spent the night at the Caribe with members of President Obama’s security detail less than 48 hours before his arrival for a summit.

“The secret agents didn’t think about Obama. All they thought about was being in bed,” said the song takeoff on the scandal that got its video release Saturday evening at a Cartagena club.

Several dozen U.S.-based reporters last week rushed to the colonial Caribbean port to report on the developing sex scandal, joining those already there to cover last weekend’s Summit of the Americas.

They’ve scoured bars and discotheques that prostitutes frequent, with names such as Isis and Elektra, logging hours and downing overpriced cocktails while trying to find at least one of the women who allegedly spent the night with members of Mr. Obama’s security detail.

It didn’t help that Hotel Caribe workers were muzzled by their employer and normally helpful senior Colombian police and government officials also clammed up.

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