Tucked in a low-rent district of Cartagena, Colombia, lies the Pley Club. A tacky neon sign sits atop a windowless, dingy building, inviting gentlemen into the club, which reportedly doubles as a brothel. Here at the Pley Club, President Barack Obama's Secret Service agents picked up about 20 Colombian prostitutes. The event would lead to a heated scandal that has embarrassed the agency.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, expressed her disappointment in an email to Reuters on Tuesday, reported the Daily Mail.
Director [Mark] Sullivan [of the U.S. Secret Service] is rightly appalled by the agents' actions and is pursuing a vigorous internal investigation. He ordered all the agents to return to Washington immediately, and all have been interviewed, said Collins. FOX News Radio reported on Tuesday that 11 Secret Service agents have had their Top Secret clearance revoked while the case is under investigation.
What salacious events occurred at the Pley Club, visited by 11 Secret Service agents assigned to protect Obama during the Sixth Summit of the Americas?
Here are five things to know about the Pley Club and the growing Secret Service scandal.
The Pley Club
The Pley Club is a windowless, one-story building, according to description from the New York Daily News. The center stage is fixture with two poles upon which women perform. This stage is dimly lit by red, purple and green neon lights. Off to the side is a shower. Surrounding the stage and the shower are wipe-down tables and chairs. The Pley Club's website says that it boasts pley rooms where fantasies become realities.
Prostitution in Colombia
Prostitution is legal in Colombia in designated tolerance zones, according to the 2008 Human Rights Report published by the U.S. Department of State. However, enforcement of the restriction to these zones is difficult to maintain. Such lax prostitution laws are making Colombia a haven for sex tourism. The Human Rights Reports states that prostitution in Colombia is exacerbated by both poverty and internal displacement. In its 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report, the State Department found that Colombia is one of the Western Hemisphere's major source countries for women and girls trafficked abroad for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.
The girls working at the Pley Club live on the site, reported ABC News. Despite the legality of prostitution in Colombia, solicitation of sex by Secret Service agents is considered inappropriate behavior.
Secret Service Scandal
The Daily News reported that, while they were drinking beers and whiskey, which range from 40,000 to 150,000 pesos or $24 to $84 for bottle service, the Secret Service agents had their pick of young women with long, black and brown hair and layers of makeup. ABC News reported that while at the Pley Club, the Secret Service agents boasted that they were in Colombia to protect Obama.
The gringos got rowdy at the bar. They drank fine whisky and slept with the prettiest ones, the ones that charge 300,000 pesos (about $180), one club worker told El Heraldo, a newspaper in Cartagena. Some did not want to pay. To make it worse, they almost beat up employees who wanted them to pay up.
The men were drinking heavily during their night out and enlisted the services of the club's prostitutes, according to a bouncer at the club and a police source, ABC reported.
The 11 Secret Service agents, many of them married, brought 20 or 21 Colombian women from the Pley Club back to the beachfront Hotel Caribe, reported the Daily Mail. Anyone visiting the hotel overnight was required to leave identification at the front desk and leave the premises of the hotel promptly at 7 a.m. However, when a woman failed to leave, the hotel staff notified the police. The woman, reportedly a dancer/prostitute from the Pley Club, told authorities that one of the Secret Service agents owed her $47 and still had not paid.
There was a dispute the next morning when one of the women did not leave the room, said Rep. Peter King, R-NY, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. Police came and she refused to leave until she was paid for her services. The incident was then reported to the U.S. Embassy.
Rebuttals from the Pley Club
Employees of the Pley Club deny that the Secret Service agents left with women from their establishment.
Manager Juan Carlos told the Daily News: The girls dance for the audience. They put on a show. Then, they walk around and talk to the guys. A dance can cost from 80,000 to 90,000 pesos.
Then, if they like each other, they negotiate a deal, he said. The tourists come here and have a good time. We don't let them mistreat the girls. They come to us if someone isn't treating them right. Customers get drunk, but it never gets out of hand.
Leonardo Quintero, an accountant at the Pley Club, told the Palm Beach Post on Monday, I can't believe how far this news has reached. It's false; it's a lie. We have all sorts of people come in and out of here, both tourists and nationals, but nobody can truly say that those people were here.
He maintained that the Pley Club does not allow its escorts to leave with customers before their fee has been paid. He believes a fight over $47 is unlikely. The scandal was at the hotel, not here, so I keep thinking it's the hotel that's trying to put the blame on us, he said.
Others speculated that the girls involved in the Secret Service scandal might have come from an independent venue or even from the street
Fabio, an employee of the Cartagena escort service Prepago 1000, or Prepaid 1000, told the Palm Beach Post that most reputable organizations would not have faced such a scandal.
I think the agents must have picked up someone off the street or an 'independent', said Fabio, who declined to reveal his last name. If you're using a real service, you don't get those kind of surprises ... If they had hired one of our girls, for example, there would never have been that kind of scandal.
President Obama Speaks
Obama expressed his disappointment over reports of prostitution solicitation by members of the Secret Service, but emphasized that a thorough and rigorous investigation must be made.
When we travel to another country, I expect us to observe the highest standards because we're not just representing ourselves; we're here on behalf of our people, Obama said Sunday during a joint news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. And that means that we conduct ourselves with the utmost dignity and probity. And obviously what's been reported doesn't match up with those standards.
The president backs Secret Service Director Sullivan as the agency further investigates this scandal, reported USA Today.
The president has confidence in the director of the Secret Service, said White House spokesman Jay Carney. The director acted swiftly in response to this incident, and is overseeing the investigation.