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US interviews prostitute in Secret Service scandal

dania-suarez.jpg

May 4, 2012: Frame grab by Spanish radio station Cadena SER website shows Dania Londoño Suárez, the woman who triggered the U.S. Secret Service scandal in Colombia. (AP)

U.S. government investigators interviewed the Colombia prostitute at the center of a Secret Service prostitution scandal that cost eight officers and supervisors their jobs and became an election-year embarrassment for the Obama administration.

Dania Londono Suarez voluntarily met with investigators at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, agency spokesman Edwin Donovan said. He said the Secret Service investigation was nearly complete. More than 200 people, including most of the women involved, have been interviewed in the United States and Colombia.

Londono mysteriously disappeared days after the incident and could not be reached by investigators.

In a radio and television interview from Madrid on May 4, Londono said she works as a prostitute in Colombia, catering to foreigners. She said after leaving Colombia, she spent some time in Dubai before going to Madrid.

Londono said she met a Secret Service employee at a club in Cartagena, Colombia, last month and escorted him back to his hotel after a night of partying.

"I told him it would be $800 and he said that was fine and not a problem," Londono said in Spanish. The next morning, however, the officer refused to pay, offering her only about $30 for a taxi. Londono said she was insulted and tried for several hours to get paid, eventually asking a local police officer at the hotel for help.

She said the argument ended when other Secret Service officers at the Hotel Caribe paid her about $250. The officers were in Colombia in advance of President Barack Obama's arrival for a South American summit.

Prostitution is legal in Colombia.

A dozen employees have been implicated since the April 12 argument became public. Eight people, including two supervisors, have lost their jobs. The agency is moving to revoke permanently the security clearance for one other employee, and three others have been cleared of serious wrongdoing. Twelve military personnel also have been implicated.

Londono left Colombia a few days after the incident, and she said last week that she had not been contacted by the Secret Service or anyone from the U.S. government. She described the officers involved as "fools" and said the whole situation could have been avoided if the man she spent the night with had just paid her.

"There wouldn't have been a problem if he had paid me money," Londono said.

Since the incident in Colombia, there have been several media reports of similar Secret Service misconduct in the past, including allegations that officers hired strippers and prostitutes during a presidential trip to El Salvador last year.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a U.S. Senate panel last month that there have been no reports of such misconduct filed with the agency's Office of Professional Responsibility in the last 2 1/2 years. She later said there was no evidence to corroborate the allegations from El Salvador.

Donovan declined to discuss the reports from El Salvador on Thursday, but he has said that any credible reports of misconduct would be investigated

Since the scandal emerged, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan has issued new conduct rules for officers and agents traveling abroad. In some cases, chaperones will be sent on trips, and employees will be barred from visiting disreputable establishments, drinking heavily or within 10 hours of a shift. The new rules also bar employees from bringing foreigners into their hotel rooms.