The U.S. Secret Service is under scrutiny after a batch of newly released documents revealed that a special agent was accused in 2012 of using a date-rape drug to molest boys.
The revelation, stemming from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, raised questions about whether the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security, which oversees it, as well as its investigative arm, took sufficient action when confronted with the allegations.
In addition to the allegations involving the special agent, a separate document obtained by the Washington Examiner referenced another employee from a different division who had also been accused of child molestation.
The new revelations come at a time when the agency is struggling to overcome scandals, including one in which agents hired prostitutes during a presidential trip to Colombia.
The Secret Service has spent years trying to repair its reputation and improve discipline, but the new revelations about child abuse prompt attorneys who specialize in federal employment law to question the agency's willingness to hold agents accountable for serious crimes.
"From a reading of what is publicly available to me, it appears that the U.S. Secret Service does not wish to be held accountable for how it treats its employees accused of serious crimes against children involving sexual misconduct and/or drugs," Cheri Cannon, a partner at federal employment law firm Tully Rinckey told the Washington Examiner.
"The Secret Service should be transparent in how it treats such persons, within the confines of federal privacy laws," she said. "Not responding at all or ignoring the situation is not responding within the bounds of federal privacy laws, but appears to be an effort to protect the agency from any allegation of a cover up of serious criminal activity."
Bracing for renewed criticism, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the union that represents the Secret Service, released a statement earlier this week saying, "the Secret Service is comprised of humans who sometimes err, but isolated mistakes do not undefine the agency's legacy of honor."
The latest child sex abuse issue goes back to the fall of 2012, when Department of Homeland Security investigators were looking into a Denver-based special agent accused of child molestation, according to one document, a "memorandum of activity" from the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG). When investigators ran the agent's name through a federal database, they found that the same person had been flagged by Customs and Border Protection a year earlier for trying to send himself a date-rape drug through the mail.
Customs and Border Protection officers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York found the package containing the drug in 2011 and confiscated it before it reached the agent, according to the memo, and entered his name into an internal DHS law enforcement database. The document was redacted to exclude the agent's name.
The date-rape drug is gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, which the memo notes is "used as a recreational drug and is linked to drug-assisted sexual assaults." Under U.S. law, the drug is a List 1 chemical, which it is illegal to import.
Five days after OIG officers in Denver discovered the agent's name in the database, he was sent to Washington, D.C., for questioning, where he admitted sleeping with a juvenile at his home but stated that "nothing sexual happened," according to the memo.
"Subsequently, [the special agent] resigned his employment with the USSS," the memo states. "However, a few weeks after his resignation, he withdrew his resignation and the USSS reinstated [the special agent's] employment and he was placed on administrative leave."
Administrative leave allows federal employees to remain on payroll without reporting to work while under investigation for misconduct.
The memo states that investigators in Dallas then interviewed another subject. Though that part of the memo is heavily redacted, the part that is visible says that he had spent the night at the special agent's home several times "but he slept alone on the couch" and "never had sexual contact" with him.
Asked about the GHB chemical, the subject of the interview said he knew it was the "'date-rape drug,' but did not want to comment more about it when asked more probing questions," the memo states. The subject then said he did see the special agent in question mixing "[redacted]" into a drink and the special agent drank it but "did not know if anyone else did too."
In late 2012, OIG investigators alerted a Colorado county sheriff's office "to apprise them [sic] the information in the event the sheriff's office received any reports or complaints about the [special agent's name redacted] misconduct."
The local county sheriff's office said it would then initiate an investigation based on the information it received from the OIG investigators "in order to determine" if the special agent had committed any crimes.
The document was made public after Maria Litman, a Texas woman spent $100,000 in legal fees fighting the DHS for documents related to Secret Service misconduct. She won her court cases, recently receiving 3,900 documents about the Secret Service misbehavior.
In addition, a separate chart of Secret Service misconduct cases obtained by the Examiner, shows what appears to be a second incident of alleged child molestation during the same year, 2012. This case appears to be different than the one involving a special agent and the date-rape drug because the suspect was in the Uniformed Division of the agency, and was not a special agent.
In this case, according to the document, the employee was arrested for "aggravated sexual battery and taking indecent sexual liberties with a child."
The proposed punishment of the employee was indefinite suspension for failing to maintain a security clearance. In the end he instead "retired in lieu of removal." Employees who retire rather than resigning or being fired receive federal pensions and benefits
A Secret Service spokeswoman told the Examiner this week that federal privacy laws bar the agency from releasing information about the cases or how or whether the employees left the agency after the allegations were investigated.
Following the publication of this article, she emailed the following statement:
"In October of 2012 the Secret Service was informed that two employees were under investigation by other law enforcement agencies. Upon notification, both employees' security clearance and access to Secret Service facilities was suspended and they were both placed on administrative leave. Indefinite suspension (leave without pay) was proposed.
The first employee retired On October 31, 2012. The second resigned December 15, 2012. Both actions were just prior to enforcement of the indefinite suspensions. At no time did either employee 'un-resign.'
Cannon argues that there is information, albeit limited, the agency could release despite privacy laws, including whether the unidentified special agent is still employed and whether he resigned, was fired or retired with benefits, as well as details about whether the investigation found corroborating evidence and how it ended, she said."
An OIG record of case closures, made public in 2014, refers to a case involving a Colorado special agent accused of using an illegal drug to "seduce and molest" underage children that was opened in Dec. 6 of 2012 and closed on Dec. 13, 2013.
After analyzing the details of the memo about the OIG investigation, Cannon had several questions about how investigators and the Secret Service resolved and closed the case.
She pointed to the Secret Service or DHS decision, as described in the document, to allow the special agent to rescind his resignation and be reinstated as particularly troublesome from a legal perspective.
Her concern about a possible cover-up is "bolstered by the Secret Service decision to return the employee to the federal payroll after he had resigned from service and then placing him on paid leave at...taxpayer expense."
There is no legal requirement to accept a former employee's request to return to duty after his resignation, she said.
"There is certainly no reason to do so when the employee is accused of serious criminal activity and will not be returned to active service as an agent," she added.
Stan Brand, a senior counsel at Akin Gump who specializes in defending witnesses in government investigations, also questioned several aspects of the Secret Service and the OIG's handling of the case.
The reinstatement of the special agent after he resigned described in the piece was especially "bizarre," he said.
"He resigned and they let him back [on administrative leave] without anything in the record about how these allegations were resolved…it's a mystery to me," Brand said.
Most investigations involving allegations of serious crime are followed by a Report of Investigations, a final summary of what investigators pursued, how it concluded and what disciplinary actions they recommended the Secret Service take against an employee, if any.
Both the Secret Service and OIG are under new leadership since the Colombia prostitution scandal grabbed headlines in 2014 and spurred congressional investigations.
An OIG spokeswoman told the Examiner to submit a FOIA request for the final report, and said she "would be surprised if there wasn't [a final report] on a closed case."
The Examiner submitted a FOIA request this week. No one answered when the Examiner called a phone number listed on the website for the OIG office in charge of handling those requests.
Customs and Border Patrol spokesman Anthony Bucci said he would not disclose any information about the date-rape drug discovered at JFK Airport because "internal documents are not releasable and addressee information is protected by the Privacy Act."
In its broad defense of the Secret Service this week, union President Nathan Catura, said "For several years now, the Secret Service has been put under an unrelenting microscope. A proud agency that does one of the most patriotic duties ‎in the United States has been repeatedly dragged through the refuse pile, in many cases for dubious and uncertain reasons. While we do support the imperative that all law enforcement officers be held to the highest standards, several congressional and Office of Inspector General reports have revealed one glaring fact: the Secret Service is comprised of humans who sometimes err, but isolated mistakes do not undefine the agency's legacy of honor."
Catura praised the steps taken by the agency to address misconduct by agents, and calling their work "underappreciated."
"With all-time staffing lows, they are conducting one of the most dynamic and intensive presidential campaigns in modern history – putting their lives on the line every day with minimal resources thanks to a lack of congressional budget support," he said.