SS sex scandal: Paula Reid to lead the investigation including Dania Suarez's claim
By FnF Desk
PUBLISHED: Apr 22, 2012, 14:31 pm IST | UPDATED: Apr 22, 2012, 16:39 pm
Keywords: Paula Reid Head the investigation Secret Service sex scandal Colombian prostitutes Dania Suarez Barack Obama Dania Suarez's claim Prostitution scandal
NY: The female Secret Service officer responsible for disciplining 11 agents caught in a fight with Colombian prostitutes has been revealed as one of the agency's rising stars. Paula Reid, 46, recently became the Secret Service's South American chief after 21 years on the force.
Her crucial role in uncovering the scandal came to light as a senior congressman predicted that nearly all the agents implicated in the embarrassing incident would have to leave their jobs.
Ms Reid was in Cartagena, laying the ground for Barack Obama's arrival at a major summit, when she heard that her agents had been involved in a fight at their hotel, according to the Washington Post.
According to the Daily Mail report, the disagreement, which ended when police were called, was apparently sparked by one agent refusing to pay a local prostitute who had spent the night with him.
Ms Reid immediately launched an investigation, inspected agents' hotel records and ordered 11 men - six of whom have since left the force - to return home and face suspension.
And it was she who alerted senior management to the alleged misbehaviour, which would go on to humiliate the Secret Service and overshadow the President's trip to the Summit of the Americas.
The official's no-nonsense methods have apparently drawn the approval of Mark Sullivan, director of the Secret Service, though some have said that she could have been less forthright in her approach.
Ms Reid, who is head of the agency's Miami office, told the Post: 'Despite this current challenge facing the Secret Service, my job is to keep Miami personnel focused on our core protective and investigative missions.'
She grew up in Maryland, and has served in the White House as well as Miami since joining the Secret Service in 1990.
A decade ago, she joined a controversial class-action lawsuit alleging that African-Americans like her were discriminated against by the agency and given less prominent jobs.
In an interview several years ago, she stood up for the ability of women to serve as bodyguards, saying: 'Women would not be remotely considered if we couldn’t do it physically - and we can.'
On Saturday, the chair of the committee which oversees the Secret Service said he thought most of the agents accused of misconduct would eventually leave the force.
Six have resigned or been sacked so far, and Republican congressman Peter King said: 'I would think you'll see most of the 11 either resign, retire or will be forced to leave.
'I doubt, no matter what happens, you're going to see any of these 11 ever involved in any kind of detail like this again. They basically have to stay out of the public eye, if they stay on the job.'
He added: 'Among those 11, besides what they did, they also are in trouble, if you will, for what they didn't do. And what they didn't do is report it.'
It was earlier reported that some of the prostitutes involved in the scandal may have been underage.
A Colombian government official told a newspaper group that investigators from the Colombian attorney general’s office have questioned employees of the hotel in question, and the taxi driver who drove home the woman who triggered the scandal, to find out more.
The U.S. agents and military personnel involved could face criminal charges if it is proven that they had sex with girls under the age of 18.
When Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, was asked if any of the men had done so, he said neither he nor Mr Sullivan could be certain.
‘In the case of the 11 agents, the primary determination is you can’t determine to charge or not charge somebody until you know whether a crime is committed,’ he said, according to The Daily Beast.
‘Under U.S. law, if any of these women are under 18—I can tell you we do not know and Director Sullivan does not have actual contact/picture matched up to verify that as far as I know. When he does, I would expect a call, because that would be a relief to many of us to not have on top of everything else.’
Issa stressed that it was a crime to sleep with minors abroad - although there is no suggestion that any of the men who have been named did.
‘U.S. laws passed in 2003 and 2006 were designed to prevent sex vacations causing harm to underage women,’ the Republican Representative added. ‘We have to respect some things, but going internationally anywhere to have sex acts underage is prohibited under U.S. law.’
The news came as a senior Republican, Senator Charles Grassley, urged the investigation to extend to presidential staff who were preparing for Barack Obama's visit. Also on Friday, Mr Obama received a personal briefing on the state of the investigation from Mark Sullivan, director of the Secret Service.
Mr Grassley urged investigators to check hotel records for White House advance staff and communications personnel who were in Cartagena for the Summit of the Americas.
In a letter to Mr Sullivan and the inspector general at the Homeland Security Department, Mr Grassley asked whether hotel records for the White House staffers had been checked.
He wrote: 'Have records for overnight guests for those entities been pulled as part of the investigation? If not, why not?'
Additionally Mr Grassley, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked whether rooms were shared by Secret Service, the communications agency and the presidential advance staff.
After three agents resigned on Friday, the number of men forced out by the scandal rose to six.
Five more are suspended during the investigation, while one man has been cleared of serious misconduct but could still face disciplinary action. Mr Sullivan visited the White House late on Friday to brief Mr Obama in the Oval Office.
Meanwhile, the lawyer of the two ousted Secret Service supervisors David Chaney and Greg Stokes said that President Barack Obama's safety was never at risk and criticized leaks of internal government investigations in the case, signaling their strategy for an upcoming legal defense.
Lawrence Berger said he could not comment on the woman's claims about being paid for sex, but added: 'I don't think anything she has said is material to any of the issues I am pressing with my clients.
'Nothing that has been reported in the press in any way negatively or adversely impacted the mission of that agency or the safety of the president of the United States.'
The scandal came to light when a 24-year-old high-end escort fought with an agent who slept with her at a Colombian hotel but then refused to hand over the $800 they had agreed upon.
Her name has been revealed as Dania Suarez and she has gone into hiding after photographs of her emerged. Her identity was revealed as the names of two of the Secret Service supervisors involved in the scandal came to light.
David Chaney was forced to retire over his alleged role in the incident, while Greg Stokes was 'removed with cause'. Another agent resigned after being suspended as part of the investigation into the scandal.
One of the three agents to have left the service so far apparently plans to sue the agency over his treatment in the aftermath of the prostitution scandal, which has made headlines around the world.
Stokes, who could appeal his sacking in the next 30 days, is apparently head of the agency's Canine Training Section. The men were identified soon after Suarez, the mother of a 9-year-old son, broke her silence.
Speaking about the tawdry episode that has seen three agents ousted from their posts after a wild night of partying in Cartagena last week, the escort claims she was offered $30 - a fraction of her $800 fee - for a night with one of the men.
'I tell him, "Baby, my cash money",' she recalled in an interview with The New York Times, recounting the heated exchange that has wrecked the agency's reputation and become an election year embarrassment for President Barack Obama.
The news came as the Secret Service said three employees have been ousted in the wake of questionable behaviour at the Hotel Caribe last week, with some now under investigation for possible drug use, ABC News reports.
HOW OBAMA'S BODYGUARDS UPSTAGED HIS TRIP TO COLOMBIA
News that 11 Secret Service agents had been sent home after 'nearly all of them' were caught with prostitutes all but overshadowed President Barack Obama's trip to Colombia this weekend.
The scandal unfolded rapidly after a tipster called the Associated Press and reported the incident Wednesday night at the luxurious Hotel Caribe in Cartagena, where the agents were staying while the conducted advance security operations to prepare for the president's arrival.
The agents allegedly picked up the hookers at the seedy PleyClub after a night of heavy drinking and hard-partying there.
They were busted after a prostitute got angry and caused a commotion involving hotel security and local police when one agent refused to pay her. The tab? $47.
Two of the men were supervisors. Several are married and all of them have been suspended, pending an investigation. Experts say the scandal could have exposed the agents to blackmail and potentially endangered the president.
President Obama, whom the Secret Service claims was never in danger, said he would be 'angry' if the allegations are proven true.
Rep Darrell Issa, a California Republican, suggested Secret Service agents might be covering up other sex scandals when he said, 'Things like this don't happen once if they didn't happen before.'