Published June 19, 2012
MARTHA'S VINEYARD, Mass. – Long before President Obama's security detail was scandalized in Colombia and new revelations emerged last week about the Secret Service, members of the elite team earned an "Animal House" reputation at the blueblood vacation mecca of Martha's Vineyard.
Local residents say wild parties, fights and late-night carousing involving Secret Service members have become commonplace in recent years at the Vineyard, a favorite getaway for the First Family and longtime destination for upper-crust members of the Northeastern political, media and business establishment.
“I expect parties during the summer. People come here to have fun -- they’re on vacation,” said a resident who lives in the East Chop section of Oak Bluffs, near the six-bedroom Victorian mansion whose owners dubbed it the Secret Service’s “party house,” after agents staying in a cluster of adjacent homes converged on it for late-night soirees. “But I didn’t think it’d be Secret Service people here protecting the president.”
Trashed rental homes, bad behavior and barroom brawls that have required the local police to step in have some disgusted Martha’s Vineyard homeowners vowing never to rent out to the Secret Service again. And while none of the disturbing behavior appeared to have any direct effect on the president’s safety, some occurred even as the president and his family were nearby.
One resident called police in the early morning on Aug. 18, 2011, about a party that went on until well past 4 a.m. on the day President Obama arrived for a nine-day vacation. Cars were parked on a lawn strewn with beer bottles and young women went in and out of the house as shouts from a spirited foosball game pierced the wee-hours air, neighbors told FoxNews.com.
A police report obtained by FoxNews.com describes two local cops arriving at 2:23 a.m. to find as many as a dozen people on the porch “talking and laughing loudly.”
“I was informed by two males that it’s a rental house and they were working the presidential vacation,” the report states. “I informed them that it was still 2:30 a.m. and people in the area are complaining about the loud voices, and [they] were told to go inside and close the windows.”
In response to FoxNews.com’s request for comment, Secret Service spokesman Max Milien in Washington said the Secret Service “has not received any complaints or information regarding alleged misconduct of its personnel operating in Martha's Vineyard during the summer of 2011. Any information brought to our attention that can be assessed as credible will be followed up on in an appropriate manner.”
But at least one Vineyard homeowner says that isn’t true.
She said her husband called the Secret Service in Washington last year to complain about the rowdy behavior of agents and damage they caused to their home, but his gripe was dismissed by officials who told her “that’s what they do on vacation” – even though the agents were on assignment at the Vineyard.
“If Secret Service says they’ve never received complaints about these same guys, then there is clear evidence to the contrary -- if they say that, they’re lying,” the woman told FoxNews.com. "We were the only ones to care, apparently. Nobody else cared about them partying, trashing the house, bringing girls home.
“We would not rent to them again,” she said.
She described a wake of destruction left by the commander-in-chief’s bodyguards, including the Counter Assault and Counter Sniper Teams, the same elite groups that got into trouble in Colombia. Antique furniture was destroyed, expensive "locally harvested" wide pine flooring was ruined and beer and liquor bottles were scattered throughout the property after agents stayed in the house, one of several stately million-dollar Victorians with pastel-painted wood shingles and wraparound porches of the exclusive East Chop section of Oak Bluffs.
The homeowners and several neighbors described another incident where police responded to complaints about a truck parked half on the lawn, half on the driveway. Cops arrived, spoke to the Secret Service agents inside and, moments later, a half-dressed woman came running out, got in the truck and sped off, said neighbors.
The home police responded to on Aug. 18, 2011, was described by one neighbor as a virtual “party house” for local college girls home for the summer, while another neighbor said she saw young women coming and going during more than one raging Secret Service party.
The owner of a six-bedroom home rented out the last two summers to the same Secret Service team that got in trouble in South America showed FoxNews.com a bullet he said was left behind by the agents and said CAT agents let neighborhood children and other residents handle their weapons.
More alarmingly, he said the men told him details of presidential security plans and logistics.
“They left ammo behind, they told me things they shouldn’t have been telling me, things they shouldn’t be telling anyone about the details about how they protect the president. They let us hold their weapons, see all their stuff, they had huge house parties,” said the man, who spoke to FoxNews.com with his wife on the condition they not be named.
Real estate agents with knowledge of the East Chop homes rented out to Secret Service said a child found a spent shell casing on a front lawn of one of the homes.
Glen Caldwell, the general manager of Offshore Ale in Oak Bluffs, told FoxNews.com about an incident last summer when one of his staff found a Secret Service badge on the floor after the bar had closed at the end of the night. The commission book also included a list of emergency phone numbers -- two 1-800 Secret Service numbers, a Department of Homeland Security ID card.
“It was on the floor of the bar for who knows how long, covered in peanuts. It was pretty clear that the guy was drunk,” Caldwell said.
When another worker found the badge, Caldwell said he put it in the bar’s safe. He then got a frantic call an hour or two later from someone asking if they’d found a Secret Service ID. He said the owner soon showed up at the bar and, when he asked for proof that the ID was his, showed a Virginia driver’s license bearing the same name.
“You didn’t call any of those numbers did you?” the agent nervously asked, recalled Caldwell, who had not.
A woman who was close to one of the agents and spent time with a group of them last summer said she was concerned about the national security implications of them bringing home women -- many of whom were foreign nationals -- nearly every night. She said the agents she spent time with did not bring their weapons out at night to the bars and parties, but that detailed information about the protection plans for the president was on all of their cellphones -- as were the phone numbers, locations and contact phone numbers for everyone on the detail.
In another incident, a local bartender said she and her boyfriend were playing pool with White House staffers who were members of Obama’s detail at an Oak Bluffs restaurant when they ran out of quarters. She said the staffers shot pool using what they said was the cash they were carrying for Obama -- the president doesn’t carry his own cash; White House staffers traveling with the president pay for his meals or other purchases.
Yet despite the myriad incidents, neither local law enforcement nor Secret Service officials in Washington would acknowledge a problem with the agents’ behavior on Martha’s Vineyard.
“This isn’t news,” Oak Bluffs Police Lt. Timothy Williams insisted to FoxNews.com, when asked about the East Chop address party. “There’s no news here,” he said, while also refusing to make available the officers who responded to the early morning party.
A chef at one popular restaurant, who cooked for a Secret Service party last summer, said the hi-jinks weren’t confined to the male agents. Three female Secret Service agents at the affair “partied just as much, if not more, than the other guys,” he said, and even organized tequila-fueled “ladies nights” out on the town.
The women also detailed protection strategies the security team provided for the president.
“The women talked about all the layers of protection -- what they do, how they protect the president -- the secret things that nobody is supposed to ever know about,” the chef said.
Several locals said they were disturbed the agents seemed to treat the president’s vacation as their own, even though the agents were on duty. Among the complaints are that some agents used their status to skip out on bar tabs, or using restricted parking areas while out boozing it up at local bars.
“They think they own the place, that they’re above the law,” said a bartender at the Wharf, a bar in Edgartown across the road from where White House advance team and Signal Corp communications teams set up shop in the month before the president’s arrival on the Vineyard. “[They’ll say], ‘I kill people for a living,’ ‘the President of the United States is alive because of me,’” the bartender said.
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Elsewhere, Vineyard residents reported Secret Service agents crashing parties all over the island. Last summer, the annual Harley-Davidson “Run to the Rock” event coincided with Obama’s visit, and many people reported seeing numerous Secret Service agents joining the party and drinking at the annual gathering.
Not everyone has problems with the Secret Service rentals. Walter Vail, an elected official in Oak Bluffs, said Secret Service teams that rented his home treated it with respect. He said the men used a large tree in his yard to do pull ups, ran windsprints down the main street and played wiffleball on the enormous lawn of a home next to his that was also rented.
And others on the island say Secret Service agents should be allowed to party, as long as they keep the First Family safe.
“Boys will be boys,” said Peter Martell, owner of the Wesley Hotel in Oak Bluffs, which has hosted Secret Service since Bill Clinton first vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard in 1993.
Hotel workers say that for as long as they’ve been staying there, there’s been a cooler of beer waiting for each agent when he returns from his shift.
“They work their butts off, these guys, and they do a hell of a job. If they want to have a little fun here, what’s the harm?” Martell said.