Watchdog: DEA agents attended cartel-funded 'sex parties'

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

In another major embarrassment for federal law enforcement, a Justice Department watchdog report alleges several Drug Enforcement Administration agents attended "sex parties" with prostitutes paid for by local drug cartels.

The alleged parties took place in an unnamed "host country," which reportedly was Colombia, over a period of several years. According to the Justice Department inspector general report, the parties were even held in agents' U.S. government-leased quarters.

Further, agents received "money, expensive gifts, and weapons from drug cartel members," according to the report, which explored sexual misconduct allegations and how they are handled at the DEA; FBI; Bureau of  Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF); and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS).

The IG report found such allegations often went unreported or underreported, or were not pursued properly.

The findings were immediately met Thursday with outrage on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers for years have pressured agencies to get tough on misconduct from within -- most notably, following the Secret Service prostitution scandal in 2012, also in Colombia.

"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," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said in a statement. "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."

Extensive interviews with DEA and host country officials from 2009-2010 revealed allegations against 10 agents, including a regional director. Seven admitted to attending the parties with the prostitutes, which allegedly were arranged by a police officer in the host country and took place between 2005 and 2008. A Washington Post story quoted a law enforcement source as confirming the incidents happened in Cartagena, Colombia, the scene of the 2012 sex scandal.

The DOJ inspector general said it initiated the report "in the wake" of that Secret Service scandal, in which 13 agents on a presidential detail were snagged hiring prostitutes and engaging in drunken revelry the night before President Obama arrived for the Summit of the Americas. A dozen U.S. military personnel were also punished for their involvement.

'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.'

— House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

In the DEA case, investigators said that the DEA had imposed suspensions on the men ranging from two to 10 days. The DEA inspector told the DOJ IG investigators that "prostitution is considered a part of the local culture and is tolerated in certain areas called 'tolerance zones,'" and that it is common for prostitutes to be "present at business meetings involving cartel members and foreign officers" -- and that all of this "affects the way in which federal law enforcement employees conduct themselves in this particular country."

Reached for comment, a DEA representative referred to the agency's official response in the report. That response said the investigation of misconduct allegations is "the primary mission" of its Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). DEA did a "second review" of all the cases the IG reviewed to see if the OPR did its job and the DEA determined that they were "investigated properly through DEA's disciplinary process for related misconduct."

Separately, a spokesman with the Department of Justice said the DOJ takes the issues in the report "seriously" and "is taking steps to implement policies and procedures to help prevent them from happening in the future." He added: "The Department is already working with the law enforcement components to ensure a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment and misconduct is enforced and that incidents are properly reported."

Members of Congress were quick to weigh in, saying this was more than a matter of cultural differences, but a danger to Americans.

"Let there be no mistake, this is a national security threat," said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who called for the immediate firing of the agents involved. "The gross misconduct of DEA agents follows a disturbing pattern of risky and improper behavior afflicting Homeland Security and the Department of Justice."

The oversight committee already has scheduled a hearing on the findings, for April 14.

The report detailed other cases as well. This includes that of an ATF director who initiated "sexual play" with multiple anonymous partners in a hotel room; a U.S. marshal who admitted to having sexual relations with prostitutes in Thailand; and numerous allegations of sexual harassment throughout the agency.