WASHINGTON (AP) – Drug Enforcement Administration agents attended sex parties with prostitutes while stationed overseas as far back as 2001, according to a report released Tuesday.
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 for parties with prostitutes, the DEA said in an internal report.
Excerpts of the report were released Tuesday by the House Oversight Committee. The panel is investigating questionable behavior highlighted in a March 26 report by the Justice Department's inspector general that examines sexual harassment and misconduct allegations from 2009 to 2012.
The Justice Department report recounts allegations that DEA agents attended sex parties with prostitutes, funded by local drug cartels, in a foreign county. The report does not identify the country where the alleged sex parties occurred, but the report released Tuesday identified it as Colombia.
The report came after a separate 2012 prostitution scandal in Colombia involving the Secret Service drew attention to questionable behavior by law enforcement officers while stationed overseas. Those allegations prompted Congress to order a review of other agencies' practices. DEA agents who were accused of misconduct in the wake of that scandal were recalled from Colombia and put on limited duty.
Ten DEA agents were accused of wrongdoing; seven were issued suspensions ranging from one to 10 days.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the oversight panel, said the new report "details a truly breathtaking recklessness by DEA agents." Cummings said he cannot understand how such "egregious misconduct could have continued for so long" without being addressed.
At a hearing Tuesday, Cummings and other committee members sharply questioned DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, asking why agents were not fired, nor their names released.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., called it "stunning" that no one had been fired in the wake of the allegations.
"What would it take to get fired at the DEA?" he asked.
Leonhart, who has been the DEA's top official since 2007 and was deputy for three years before that, 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, Leonhart said.
"What the hell do you get to do?" Gowdy asked incredulously.
Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., said he was appalled at the actions identified in the Justice Department and DEA reports. "From what we've heard, this reflects a 'spring break frat party' mentality for the last 15 years at the DEA," he said.
Lawmakers from both parties said they were dumbfounded that Attorney General Eric Holder found it necessary to send a memo last week reminding department employees not to engage with prostitutes.
"Hello? Am I missing something?" Cummings said. "I think we are at an all-time low here."
Walker said he also was surprised at the memo — calling it "ludicrous" — but said the message from Holder did not specify how officials will be punished if they violate the directive.
From previous actions, it appears the Justice Department's response to employees who solicit prostitutes is. "Hey, maybe take a few days off," Walker said.
Leonhart called the allegations appalling but again said she had little recourse to impose harsher discipline.