An internal Drug Enforcement Administration report showed the agency gave its agents a mere slap on the wrist for purchasing the services of Colombian prostitutes, sometimes with taxpayer money and sometimes as they let local police watch their weapons and personal property.
The report and a Tuesday hearing on it prompted a key congressman to say that the DEA chief needs to resign.
A summary of the internal report shows the DEA doled out punishments to 10 of its agents, which ranged from a letter of caution to a two-week suspension. None of the agents who participated in the parties was fired.
“They appear to have fraternized with cartel members, accepted lavish gifts and paid for prostitutes with no concern for the negative repercussions or security vulnerabilities they created,” an angry Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, said at a Tuesday hearing on the matter.
In one instance, money to pay prostitutes at a farewell party for a high-ranking DEA official was included in an “operational budget” that used government funds for the party, the report said.
DEA agents also rented undercover apartments in Colombia and used them to host prostitutes, the DEA said in its internal report.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee staff made the internal report available at Tuesday’s hearing, which gave lawmakers a chance to look into the Justice Department inspector general’s investigation accusing DEA agents of attending prostitute orgies funded by local drug cartels in a foreign country from 2009 to 2012.
The DEA’s internal report expands upon that review, detailing 14 years of misconduct accusations, dating back to 2001. Ten DEA agents were accused of wrongdoing; seven were issued suspensions ranging from one to 10 days. The internal report depicts married agents, who did “the most running around” with women, as “out of control.”
Lawmakers expressed concern during the hearing that some of the government-funded sex soirees may have included teenagers.
In response to pointed questions about whether underage women were among the prostitutes, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart replied: “I don’t know that.”
The explosive internal report shows that punishments recommended for the DEA agents also were reduced without explanation in many cases. It is also unknown whether any of the DEA supervisors who may have known about the accusations but failed to report them were punished.
The light punishments angered lawmakers from both parties.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and committee chairman, expressed dismay and shock that agents were allowed to return to work quickly “with their secret clearances fully intact.”
“These agents compromised our national security and then essentially got a vacation,” he said. “There is no accountability, and that is unacceptable.”
In an interview with The Associated Press after the hearing, Mr. Chaffetz said Ms. Leonhart, who has been the DEA’s top official since 2007 and was deputy for three years before that, has let problems fester for too long. “It’s time for her to go,” he said.
During the hearing though, Ms. Leonhart responded that civil service protections make it difficult to fire DEA agents.
As administrator, she is powerless to step in during disciplinary proceedings and in some cases cannot even revoke an agent’s security clearance, she said.
Mr. Cummings, the ranking member of the committee, said the report depicted “truly breathtaking recklessness” and showed “DEA agents as completely out of control.”
In one case, an agent accepted an authentic Rolex watch from someone responsible for providing prostitutes to parties in Bogota, Colombia, according to a heavily redacted document that committee staff handed out to reporters.
Lawmakers from both parties said they were dumbfounded that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. found it necessary to send a memo last week reminding department employees not to purchase the services of prostitutes.
“Hello? Am I missing something?” Mr. Cummings said. “I think we are at an all-time low here.”
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and House Judiciary Committee chairman, and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism, homeland security and investigations, said in a joint statement that lawmakers “will not tolerate further episodes of ‘agents gone wild.’”
“In the future, Justice Department employees who purchase sex must be fired,” the two men wrote. They said they hope to speak soon with agency representatives who can explain why DEA employees have not been sufficiently held accountable for their actions.
“The American people deserve answers from their government about this atrocious behavior and demand change to ensure such lapses in judgement don’t happen again,” the lawmakers said.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.