BRASILIA, Brazil – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday three Marines on a U.S. Embassy security team and one embassy staff member were punished for allegedly pushing a prostitute out of a car in Brasilia late last year after a dispute over payment.
The incident is similar, but unrelated, to the scandal involving Secret Service agents at the Summit of Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, before President Barack Obama arrived for a visit.
Panetta, speaking to reporters in Brasilia, says the Marines were pulled out of the country. Two had their ranks reduced. The embassy staffer was removed from his post.
Panetta said he had "no tolerance for that kind of conduct."
"Where it takes place you can be sure that we will act to make sure that they are punished and that that kind of behavior is not acceptable," he said.
According to a defense official, "there were at least two women with the Marines outside a nightclub." The official said it appears that one of the women started a fight in a vehicle, then she was removed from the car and when she tried to re-enter fell to the ground and was injured. The official also said that no charges were filed by Brazilian authorities.
According to another defense official, the embassy staff member was a supervisor. The second official said the woman broke her collarbone when she was pushed from the car in late December.
The official says the embassy tracked the woman down and paid for her medical expenses. But in the wake of the Cartagena scandal, she has hired an attorney and is suing the embassy. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
Panetta is touring South America to meet with his counterparts in the region.