Law Enforcement Agency Supervisors Turned Blind Eye to 'Loud Parties With Prostitutes'

Andres Leighton/AP file photo

Following up on the 2012 prostitution scandal among Drug Enforcement Administration employees in Cartagena, Colombia, a Justice Department watchdog on Thursday noted “systemic issues” in sexual misconduct and harassment reporting processes in four of the department’s law enforcement components.

While uncovering relatively few allegations in the review period of 2009-2012, Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that DEA, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “did not always report allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct to their respective internal affairs offices as required by component policies,” and that in several instances, the supervisors were not disciplined for their failure to report suspected incidents. 

In at least one case, DEA supervisors overseas knew that agents attended “loud parties with prostitutes,” but did not inform the Office of Professional Responsibility. And in another, in 2010, one of two deputy U.S. Marshals assigned to extradite a criminal defendant in Bangkok, Thailand, was unavailable when State Department officials attempted to contact him. Each time, “two women with heavy foreign accents answered the phone and stated the DUSM could not be disturbed,” the report said, after which the State Department confirmed the women’s status as prostitutes and instructed the missing Marshal’s colleague to notify their bosses on returning stateside.

Too often, the watchdog found, the agencies failed to use the existing tables of offenses available for charging employees with sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. They failed to coordinate with security teams on whether accused harassers had security clearances and failed to adequately monitor transmission of sexually explicit text messages and images by employees.

Harassment and misconduct offenses on the table range from indecent exposure to sexting.

Horowitz also noted that his staff faced resistance from two of the four agencies under review. “The OIG’s ability to conduct this review was significantly impacted and unnecessarily delayed by repeated difficulties we had in obtaining relevant information from both the FBI and DEA,” he wrote. “Because of these difficulties, we cannot be completely confident that the FBI and DEA provided us with all information relevant to this review.”

Overall, the percentages of sexual harassment complaints (not yet adjudicated) in the total employee population of the agencies ranked as follows: the Marshals Service (16.2 percent); DEA (12.3 percent); ATF (10.8 percent); and the FBI (9.7 percent).

Regarding possible changes to prevent reoccurrence of the prostitution scandal, the IG wrote, “We found that the ATF, DEA and USMS offense tables do not contain specific language to address the solicitation of prostitutes abroad, even where the conduct is legal or tolerated. Although the FBI offense table contains such a category, we found instances where general offense categories were applied instead of the specific category. Employees in ATF, DEA, and USMS may not receive adequate notice that this conduct is prohibited or of the range of penalties that could be imposed for it.”

The report made eight recommendations to improve the law enforcement components’ disciplinary and security processes. Justice and the four sub-agencies agreed to them.

In reaction on Thursday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, called the report’s allegations “stunning.” He added: “Let there be no mistake, this is a national security threat. While the vast majority of employees do quality work, the bad apples highlighted in the report taint their service. We need to hold them accountable and, given the clear evidence in the OIG report, they should be fired immediately.” He promised active measures by his committee “to restore these agencies to prominence.”

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