Updated April 14, 2012
CARTAGENA, Colombia—The Secret Service put 11 agents on administrative leave Saturday amid allegations they brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms while preparing for a visit by President Barack Obama, a widening scandal that may also involve five military service personnel, officials said Saturday.
The Secret Service agents were caught when one of the women stayed in an agent's room past 7 a.m., in violation of hotel policy, said Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which oversees the Secret Service. That agent initially refused to open his door for the hotel manager, which prompted the manager to call the police, who later reported the incident to the U.S. embassy, Mr. King said.
The Secret Service agents involved in the incident, which occurred Wednesday night, were sent home and replaced by other Secret Service personnel before Mr. Obama arrived on Friday, officials said.
Mr. Obama is attending the weekend Summit of the Americas, a gathering of dozens of regional leaders. Mr. Obama is pressing for trade and economic advances while addressing regional grievances against U.S. policies, but the incident is threatening to overshadow the weekend's agenda. Mr. Obama was notified of the situation on Friday, a spokesman said.
Mr. King said he was disturbed by the situation because of the potential compromise to the president's security.
"You can't have Secret Service agents compromising themselves or putting themselves in a position where they could be threatened or blackmailed," he said. "That ultimately threatens the safety of the president."
He added that bringing strangers like this into a potentially secure area is "just wrong." In addition, he said, they might have overheard sensitive information. Plus, he noted, the hotel manager had seen the women's identifications.
"The hotel manager can blackmail you for the rest of your life," he said.
Prostitution is generally illegal in Colombia but the country has "tolerance zones" where the activity is essentially ignored by the police. It's not clear if the hotel was in one of those zones.