President Obama's visit to Colombia was overshadowed by an alleged prostitution scandal involving 15 members of the Secret Service and U.S. military. Obama said he'll "be angry" if it turns out the allegations are true. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.
Updated at 6:05 p.m. ET: At a Sunday press conference wrapping up his visit to Colombia, President Barack Obama said he would be angry if it turned out the allegations that 11 Secret Service agents brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms were true.
“When we travel, we have to observe the highest standards. We’re not just representing ourselves. We’re here on behalf of our people,” he said.
The Secret Service put the agents on administrative leave Saturday as a congressman briefed on the situation gave details of the presidential security group's night with "presumed prostitutes" ahead of Obama's trip to the Summit of the Americas.
"This really is the biggest scandal in the history of the Secret Service," Ron Kessler, author of "In the President's Secret Service," told NBC News.
Agency Assistant Director Paul Morrissey said the employees were both special agents and uniformed division officers. None were assigned to directly protect Obama and the incident happened before he arrived.
The agency did not disclose the nature of the allegations but others confirmed that the behavior in question involved prostitutes.
After a Colombian prostitute complained to police that members of the Secret Service hadn't paid her, a unit was replaced and flown home. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.
Five military service members involved in the same incident were confined to quarters, officials said.
Morrissey said the Secret Service replaced the agents after allegations were made on Thursday, in line with the Secret Service's "zero tolerance" policy on personal misconduct.
"This is standard procedure and allows us the opportunity to conduct a full, thorough and fair investigation into the allegations," he said, adding: "These actions have had no impact on the Secret Service's ability to execute a comprehensive security plan for the president's visit to Cartagena."
But Kessler said the agency does have deep-rooted issues.
"There's a culture in the Secret Service that's fostered by the management of just nodding, winking, favoritism," he said. "What the agency needs is an outside director who can come in, clean house, change the standards."
Obama arrived in Cartagena for the conference on Friday and was scheduled to stay until Sunday.
U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who was briefed Saturday on the investigation, told NBC that the women who stayed overnight in Colombia with the 11 Secret Service personnel were "presumed to be prostitutes."
King said two of the Secret Service personnel were supervisors and the 11 involved comprised both agents and uniformed officers.
"Eleven Secret Service personnel, 11 of them brought women back with them to their hotel rooms on Wednesday evening into Thursday morning," King said.
"As the women came to the hotel they had put their IDs at the front desk and you have to be out of the room by 7 o'clock in the morning next day," King said briefers told him. "A guest of a guest has to leave the hotel by 7 o'clock; one of the women did not leave. Hotel management went up to the room and agents would not open the door so police came up."
King said the issue was money.
"It was resolved quickly, the woman said she wanted to get paid, the agent said he didn't have to pay her but he paid. There was no crime, no one was arrested."
Prostitution is legal in "tolerance zones'' in Colombia.
But the police, according to King, filed an incident report with the U.S. Embassy. When the Secret Service agents at the embassy saw the report they immediately started an investigation with the special agent in charge in the Miami field office.
King, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee said that "obviously conduct like this cannot be allowed. It compromised the agents themselves, it compromised America's national security and it can put the president at risk. So this was wrong from the beginning to end."
NBC's Kristen Welker, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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