A Secret Service agent suspected of having a romantic relationship with a Mexican woman is dead of an apparent suicide, a law enforcement official told CNN Thursday.
Two U.S. sailors are expected to receive administrative punishments, but not be criminally charged, in connection with the prostitution scandal that engulfed U.S. Secret Service and military members preparing for a presidential visit to Colombia earlier this year, a senior military official said Friday.
The two sailors will be punished for hiring a prostitute and dereliction of duty for drinking within eight hours of the time they had to report for duty, the official said.
More than six months after the scandal erupted, and lengthy efforts to identify and locate witnesses and others involved, the two sailors were expected to be the final military members disciplined in the case. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to disclose sensitive legal developments.
In the military, nonjudicial or administrative punishments can take a wide variety of forms, from docking service members’ pay or confining them to quarters to assigning them additional duties for a certain length of time. In some cases, it can be a letter of reprimand in their files, but in other cases administrative punishments can be career-ending, or delay or prevent any future promotions.
Of the dozen military members initially implicated, seven U.S. soldiers and two Marines received administrative punishments for what was described as misconduct, and one Air Force member was cleared. Three of the soldiers declined the administrative punishments and have requested courts-martial.
A lawyer for one of the sailors had complained that his client, David Hawley, was not around at the time the prostitutes were alleged to be solicited. The lawyer, Jeremiah Sullivan, said the sailors were unfairly stripped of their security clearances and reassigned to other tasks for months as they waited to see if they would be charged. The names of the other military members have not been made public.
The service members were investigated for bringing apparent prostitutes to their hotel rooms in Colombia shortly before President Barack Obama arrived in the country for an April summit, according to the military’s investigation of the matter. The investigator’s report, released in early August, described the misconduct as consisting “almost exclusively of patronizing prostitutes and adultery.”
The scandal came to light after a public dispute over payment between a U.S. Secret Service agent and a prostitute at a Cartagena hotel spilled over into the hallway of the Hotel Caribe. The Secret Service and the military were in the Colombian coastal resort to prepare for Obama’s participation in a Latin American summit. Eight Secret Service employees implicated in the incident were ousted and three were cleared of serious misconduct; at least two employees were fighting to get their jobs back.
U.S. Southern Command, headed by Gen. Douglas Fraser, conducted the investigation into the military members’ involvement in the April incident.
Voters choosing a sheriff in one South Carolina county can pick from four men accused of doing something wrong, including a former Secret Service agent accused of trying to kidnap someone and a second man investigated by state agents.
If neither suits their fancy, voters also can pick from a former deputy who was fired last year after his bosses accused him of lying on his time sheets, or the current chief deputy, who was the No. 2 man at the agency when a former office manager stole more than $500,000 forfeited by drug dealers. All four men deny any wrongdoing.
“It’s a travesty for all the people of Oconee County,” said Jeff Bright, an engineer who backed the ex-Secret Service agent facing the felony charge, James Bartee.
To top it all off, they will all have to conduct write-in campaigns or get back on the ballot in November through collecting signatures. All four were kicked off the ballot Wednesday because of mistakes filing campaign paperwork, just six days before the Republican primary. No Democrats were running for the seat.
Most people expected an intense campaign after 20-year Sheriff James Singleton announced his retirement. But the ugliness has become unsettling: Salacious allegations with little to back them up are swirling on Facebook, and the candidates frequently trade copies of court documents and personnel files at forums.
The sheriff’s office is typically an important seat of power in South Carolina, where strict incorporation laws mean 65 percent of the state’s residents don’t live in cities or towns. Sheriffs often control jails, can hire and fire anyone and have tight control over finances — in Oconee County, the sheriff’s office gets nearly 15 percent of the $43 million budget for the county of about 74,000 people. They also choose what their deputies concentrate on, meaning drugs may be a focus in one county while it’s traffic control in another.
Oconee County is a rural area of haves and have-nots: Wealthy retirees attracted by the beautiful waters of Lake Keowee and the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from lakeside mansions contrast with the remnants of mill villages where nearly a third of households make less than $35,000 a year, according to U.S. Census figures.
Candidates are willing to spend big bucks to get the job, too. With weeks left before what was supposed to be the election, campaign finance documents showed the four Oconee County candidates spent a combined $130,000, or about $3 per registered voter, for a job that pays anywhere from $68,000 to $103,000 a year depending on experience.
Leading the spending was Bartee, who has loaned more than $34,000 to his own campaign. He spent more than two decades with the U.S. Secret Service, and his website shows him on the presidential protection details for Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He also, for the first time in his life, is facing a felony charge.
The State Law Enforcement Division said Bartee was taped asking someone to arrange the kidnapping of a former judge so he would miss a court hearing questioning whether Bartee has the proper credentials to be sheriff. Bartee was hauled off to jail in the middle of that hearing, which has been suspended, and charged with solicitation of a felony.
Bartee vigorously maintains his innocence, saying he was trying to stop the kidnapping. The tone of his campaign has changed. On the billboards he bought months ago is the slogan: “Businessman. Gentleman. Lawman. Your Man.” Recently, as he held a fundraiser in a karaoke bar for his defense, he spent a lot of time explaining the arrest and telling people, “it’s time to get the pigs out of the water.”
Bartee appeared at a candidate forum 12 hours after he bonded out of jail, telling the audience he has heard horrible stories of police abusing their power in the county. He said if someone like him could be railroaded, then anyone in the county could wind up in a heap of trouble.
“I thought it was going to be tough going against an ingrained system,” Bartee said a week after his May 30 arrest. “But I never thought it would go this far.”
Then, one day after the karaoke bar event, Bartee abruptly decided to drop his run for sheriff and campaign for state Senate instead. He said spending a night in jail made him realize the system is broken in a much bigger area than Oconee County.
The man who turned in Bartee is Nick Blackwell, 28, a laid-off tree trimmer who also filed an assault complaint that led to the state investigation into the second sheriff’s candidate, Donnie Fricks. Blackwell accused Fricks of grabbing him at a festival in April as he passed out documents about Fricks’ divorce and three-decade-old criminal charges.
Fricks was an Oconee County deputy for 12 years before leaving the force in 2005, and then spent about five years as a consultant for police organizing in Afghanistan. He said he was not arrested and was cleared of wrongdoing, though police did not return messages from The Associated Press asking to discuss the case.
Fricks and others have suggested Blackwell is a sheriff’s office informant and is smearing them to repay debts to the agency, which Blackwell has denied.
When a reporter walked up his driveway Wednesday, Blackwell suddenly came out wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a rifle, pointed at the ground. He agreed to talk only after frisking the reporter, warning that a sniper inside his home was watching their every move.
Blackwell said he was a Bartee supporter until the candidate stunned him by suggesting the kidnapping. He insisted he was not an informant and said he fears for his life after being labeled as such in the local paper. He said someone fired shots at his home in 2008 — three windows don’t match. Blackwell refused to discuss the why he’s gotten involved in the sheriff’s race, though Fricks dismissed him as a “troublemaker.”
Plenty of others have their own theory. Blackwell admitted shooting a man six times in March 2011, but said it was self-defense after the other man pulled a gun. Oconee County deputies are still investigating the case, but no charges have been filed.
The other two candidates, former Oconee County deputy Mike Crenshaw and current Chief Deputy Terry Wilson, also have found themselves on the defensive at recent candidate forums.
Crenshaw was fired last year after the sheriff accused him of lying on his timesheets, spending hours at home when he was supposed to be working, using as evidence a GPS device attached to Crenshaw’s official vehicle by internal affairs investigators. Crenshaw said the sheriff and his hand-picked top management had become so paranoid they were spying on officers they did not like, so he took to doing work at home where he knew his phones weren’t tapped and his files wouldn’t be rifled through.
Accountability has also become a big issue. Wilson insists he did not know drug money was being stolen from the sheriff’s office for two years and helped put in place safeguards so it doesn’t happen again. It’s obvious there are a lot of people not too happy with the current organization. Wilson’s website doesn’t once mention his retiring boss and promises to provide “a new direction and new ideas.”
Before he found out all four candidates were tossed off the ballot along with dozens of other candidates across South Carolina who got bad advice from the parties about filing certain required economic statements, Richard Dubber was trying to figure out who to vote for. He doesn’t think the office is doing a good job, but he can’t find out what issues the candidates stand for, or what they would fight against because of all the crazy allegations.
“I’m trying very hard to find out the news,” Dubber said as he loaded his groceries in his car at the Seneca Walmart. “But all I keep hearing is this silly gossip.”
Collins can be reached at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP
Several small groups of Secret Service employees separately visited clubs, bars and brothels in Colombia prior to a visit by President Barack Obama last month and engaged in reckless, “morally repugnant” behavior, Sen. Susan Collins says.
She says the employees’ actions during the stunning prostitution scandal could have provided a foreign intelligence service, drug cartels or other criminals with opportunities for blackmail or coercion that could have threatened the president’s safety.
In remarks prepared for the first congressional hearing on the matter Wednesday, Collins, R-Maine, also challenged early assurances that the scandal in Colombia appeared to be an isolated incident. She noted that two participants were Secret Service supervisors — one with 21 years of service and the other with 22 years — and both were married. Their involvement “surely sends a message to the rank and file that this kind of activity is tolerated on the road,” Collins said.
“This was not a one-time event,” said Collins, the senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “The circumstances unfortunately suggest an issue of culture.”
Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the committee’s chairman, said, “I want to hear what the Secret Service is doing to encourage people to report egregious behavior when they see it.”
Wednesday’s hearing was expected to expose new details in the scandal, which became public after a dispute over payment between a Secret Service agent and a prostitute at a Cartagena hotel on April 12. The Secret Service was in the coastal resort for a Latin American summit before Obama’s arrival. Collins said several small groups of agency employees from two hotels went out separately to clubs, bars and brothels and they “all ended up in similar circumstances.”
“Contrary to the conventional story line, this was not simply a single, organized group that went out for a night on the town together,” Collins said.
Senators were expected to focus on whether the Secret Service permitted a culture in which such behavior was tolerated. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has testified previously that she would be surprised if there were other examples, but senators have been skeptical.
In his own prepared remarks, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told senators the behavior in Colombia wasn’t representative of the agency’s nearly 7,000 employees.
“I can understand how the question could be asked,” Sullivan said, calling his employees “among the most dedicated, hardest working, self-sacrificing employees within the federal government.”
Sullivan also assured senators that Obama’s security was never at risk. The officers implicated in the prostitution scandal could not have inadvertently disclosed sensitive security details because their confidential briefing about Obama’s trip had not taken place.
“At the time the misconduct occurred, none of the individuals involved in the misconduct had received any specific protective information, sensitive security documents, firearms, radios or other security-related equipment in their hotel rooms,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan has survived professionally so far based on his openness about what happened. Senators were not expected to ask for his resignation, and the acting inspector general for the Homeland Security Department, Charles K. Edwards, gave Sullivan high marks for integrity. Edwards, who estimated that the early stages of his own investigation would be finished before July 2, said the Secret Service “has been completely transparent and cooperative.”
“The Secret Service’s efforts to date in investigating its own employees should not be discounted,” Edwards told senators. “It has done credible job of uncovering the facts and, where appropriate, it has taken swift and decisive action.”
The White House on Tuesday reasserted its confidence in Sullivan. Obama “has great faith in the Secret Service, believes the director has done an excellent job,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “The director moved very quickly to have this matter investigated and took action very quickly as a result of that investigation.”
A dozen Secret Service officers and supervisors and 12 other U.S. military personnel were implicated. Eight Secret Service employees, including the two supervisors, have lost their jobs. The Secret Service is moving to permanently revoke the security clearance for one other employee, and three others have been cleared of serious wrongdoing.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that four of the Secret Service employees have decided to fight their dismissals.
Prostitution is legal in Colombia, but Sullivan quickly issued new guidelines that made it clear that agents on assignment overseas are subject to U.S. laws.
Sullivan said he directed Secret Service inspectors to investigate reports of similar misconduct in San Salvador. After 28 interviews with hotel employees and managers, State Department officials and others, “no evidence was found to substantiate the allegations,” Sullivan said.
This week the Drug Enforcement Administration said the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General was investigating possible misconduct by two or more agents in Colombia. Collins revealed that the case involved at least two DEA employees who entertained female masseuses in the Cartagena apartment of one of the DEA agents. The investigation is unrelated to the Secret Service scandal but is based on information provided to the DEA by the Secret Service.
The Senate Homeland Security Committee has scheduled a public hearing on the prostitution scandal involving U.S. military and Secret Service agents in Colombia.
Three of the 12 Secret Service agents involved in the Colombia prostitution scandal refused to cooperate with authorities and submit to a polygraph test, an official says.
Elaine Kamarck says the “boys will be boys” culture of the agency may have been responsible for compromising the safety of the president and the nation. It’s hard to imagine women heading out to a brothel together.
Homeland Security is launching its own investigation into the scandal involving 24 members of President Obama's security detail for his trip to Colombia last month.
Sources also told CNN that the Secret Service agent at the center of the Colombia prostitution scandal is Arthur Huntington.
A day after U.S. lawmakers were briefed on an alleged prostitution scandal in Colombia involving Secret Service members, a report emerged Thursday of similar allegations, this time in El Salvador.