Several Drug Enforcement Administration agents enjoyed sex parties with hookers hired by drug cartels, a watchdog report said Thursday, the latest in a string of investigations into sexual misconduct by government agents.
Investigators began looking at the agency’s transgressions after it was revealed that DEA agents had joined the Secret Service in hiring prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, while doing advance security work for a 2012 visit by President Obama.
And the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, the inspector general, found it wasn’t the first time DEA agents in Latin America had gotten involved with prostitutes in an especially compromising way.
Since at least 2005, a foreign official at an overseas DEA post had helped agents to arrange “‘sex parties’ with prostitutes funded by the local drug cartels” at the agents’ “government-leased quarters, over a period of several years,” the inspector general said.
Although not specifically named, the overseas workplace described in the report is believed to be the DEA’s office in Colombia. If true, it would make the 2012 Cartagena incident only a small part of a much larger sex scandal at the South American bureau.
Investigators said the federal agents “should have known the prostitutes in attendance were paid with cartel funds,” and in addition, they uncovered evidence that three DEA agents may have accepted “money, expensive gifts and weapons from drug cartel members.”
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, slammed the agency following the report’s release.
“Once again, some federal law enforcement agents are acting like they belong in a college frat house rather than at a taxpayer-funded law enforcement agency tasked with interdicting illegal drugs,” he said. “It’s extremely troubling that federal drug agents lacked the common sense to know that engaging with prostitutes hired by drug cartels was a bad idea.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told Politico his office would launch an investigation into the misconduct.
A spokeswoman for the DEA declined to comment on whether disciplinary action was taken against the agents in the report, and directed all questions to the main Justice Department press office.
The revelation Thursday came as part of a larger investigation that found several Justice Department agencies mishandled accusations of sexual harassment, often failing to report the incidents and punish those responsible.
Plus, investigators say their work was hampered by Justice Department officials who refused to turn over documents and tried to stall the oversight.
“At the FBI and [U.S. Marshals Service], the internal affairs offices chose not to investigate some allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct despite significant evidence that misconduct had occurred,” said a report by the inspector general.
“And [the Drug Enforcement Administration’s] internal affairs office did not always fully investigate allegations of sexual misconduct related to prostitution,” the IG continued.
In addition, the inspectors said the FBI and DEA refused to turn over documents that the IG is entitled to look at by law.
Investigators’ “ability to conduct this review was significantly impacted and unnecessarily delayed by repeated difficulties we had in obtaining relevant information from both the FBI and DEA,” the report said. “When they finally did provide the information without extensive redactions, we found that it still was incomplete.”
The Justice Department promised they would take steps to ensure policy is being followed.
“The Department will work with the law enforcement components to ensure that the Department’s zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment is enforced,” a response from the agency said, adding that it would match the penalties to the severity of the offense.
But inspectors also said the FBI and DEA refused to turn over documents that the IG is entitled to look at by law.
The watchdog report is the latest rebuke to stem from a 2012 trip that President Obama took to Colombia.
Investigators found that Secret Service agents hired prostitutes while on the trip, leading to the resignation of several high-level officials.
But the fact that DEA agents were also present led the inspector general to conduct its own investigation into the Justice Department, uncovering the allegations of prostitutes and other gifts from the very drug cartels the agents were supposed to be combatting.
Although investigators said sexual misconduct at the agencies is rare, officials rarely did anything to crack down on the practice when it did occur.
“In most cases where employees were alleged to have engaged in high-risk sexual behavior, security personnel were not informed about these incidents until long after they occurred or were never informed,” the report said.
Investigators noted that many Justice Department offices didn’t have guidelines for how to punish sexual offenses and also had little ability to monitor whether agents were using work devices to send sexually explicit emails or texts.
It’s also not the first time that inspectors general — intended to be independent investigators for the federal government — have complained that Obama administration officials are trying to block their oversight.
In February, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified before Congress that the FBI was routinely taking steps to delay or block investigations into employee misconduct.
“The existing procedures at the department undermine our independence,” he said. “The status quo cannot continue indefinitely.”