THE US Secret Service has placed 11 agents on administrative leave as it investigates allegations that the men took prostitutes to their hotel rooms in Cartagena, Colombia, on Wednesday night and a dispute ensued with one of the women relating to payment the following morning.
The Secret Service assistant director, Paul Morrissey, said the officers had violated the agency's ''zero-tolerance policy on personal misconduct'' during their trip to prepare for President Barack Obama's arrival at an international summit at the weekend.
''We regret any distraction from the Summit of the Americas this situation has caused,'' Mr Morrissey said in a statement.
The scandal threatened to upstage Mr Obama's trip to the summit, where he was discussing trade and the economy with 32 other heads of state.
Although officials said Mr Obama's security was not compromised, the allegations of misconduct have brought intense scrutiny to an agency that has not had any major lapse since 2009, when two party crashers entered the White House uninvited.
But the incident continued to grow on Saturday when the Defence Department announced that five military personnel, who were also staying at the Hotel Caribe, violated their curfew on Wednesday night and had been confined to their rooms.
The chairman of the homeland security committee, Peter King, said Secret Service officials conducting an internal investigation told him that the staff at the hotel summoned police after discovering a woman in the room of one agent, against the hotel's policy for visitors of paying guests.
Although the agent eventually paid the woman and she left, Mr King said, police reported the incident to the US embassy, which informed the Secret Service. The agency quickly recalled the agents and replaced them with a new team before Mr Obama's arrival on Friday at the Hilton Hotel a few blocks away.
Mr King praised the agency for removing the men involved, but said that ''everything they did was a violation of proper conduct''.
Colombian police made no arrests because prostitution is legal in the country.
The Washington Post