They’re one of the government’s most professional and elite squads, known for being tightly buttoned up and meticulously vigilant. But loose lips are sinking the shiny reputation of the Secret Service. In recent days details of two more alleged incidents involving agents or U.S. servicemen picking up prostitutes in South America have arisen, both of which happened within the past year.
A Brazilian reporter brought one incident to light during a press conference in Brasilia with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is currently traveling around South America. The reporter highlighted a strikingly similar scandal that occurred in the Brazilian capital in December 2011. As the story goes, a prostitute was involved in a payment dispute with three Marines who were serving as a security detail for the U.S. Embassy.
Romilda Aparecida Ferreira said she met the Marines at a strip club. After an evening of prodigious drinking, “we settled on a price and whose house we would go to,” Ferreira told Reuters. But once inside the Marines’ car, a fight broke out, and she was booted out of the vehicle, breaking her collarbone in the fall. According to Ferreira’s lawyers, the van also drove over her. The embassy was quick to make amends, tracking down the woman and paying her $2,000 medical bill. It also hustled the three Marines out of the country, firing one and reducing the other two in rank. Panetta was quick to explain that the U.S. had “no tolerance for that kind of conduct.” While the incident was handled swiftly and made few ripples at the time, in the wake of the Cartagena scandal Ferreira, who says she’s left the sex industry, is considering her legal options and may end up filing a criminal lawsuit against the Embassy, citing negligence.
But the president’s security wasn’t on the line in the Brasilia incident, as it was in Cartagena — and perhaps also in a newly uncovered incident in El Salvador last year. One enterprising reporter from Seattle dug up details about a scandal in the capital, San Salvador, that occurred in March 2011. A Secret Service team similar to the one in Cartagena was scoping out the city in advance of President Obama’s visit. KIRO-TV reporter Chris Halsne spoke to a government subcontractor based there who attested to seeing a dozen Secret Service agents and a few U.S. military specialists heading to a strip club and allegedly getting “wasted.”
The San Salvador team was granted access to the club’s VIP section, where they allegedly received “sexual favors,” according to Halsne’s report, after which at least two agents brought escorts back to their hotel rooms. Halsne’s source claims he told the agents it was not wise to bring the escorts with them, but that they bragged that they “did this all the time” and “not to worry about it.”
Secret Service spokesman Max Milien, in a statement to NPR, wouldn’t confirm or deny the San Salvador allegations, but he noted that the agency will thoroughly investigate all claims of wrongdoing. “The recent investigation in Cartagena has generated several news stories that contain allegations by mostly unnamed sources. Any information that is brought to our attention that can be assessed as credible will be followed up on in an appropriate manner.”
The new allegations give credence to the critics who claim the Secret Service hasn’t moved past the “wheels up, rings off” attitude of old that it worked so hard to shed. On Wednesday, Secretary of Homeland Security’s Janet Napolitano said the government would investigate reports of any further incidents going back 2 1/2 years, to “make sure this was not some kind of systemic problem.”