WASHINGTON – A call from a hotel reporting that a Secret Service agent was trying to force his way into a woman’s room has set in motion an internal investigation and sent tremors through an agency that is still trying to restore its elite reputation.
The incident at Washington’s Hay-Adams Hotel last spring came a year after the agency was roiled by a prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, prompting vows from senior officials to curb a male-dominated culture of hard partying and other excesses.
The service named its first female director, Julia Pierson, seven months ago, and a broad inspector general’s report on the agency’s culture that was launched in the wake of Cartagena is expected to be released in coming weeks.
The disruption at the Hay-Adams in May involved Ignacio Zamora Jr., a senior supervisor who oversaw about two dozen agents in the Secret Service’s most elite assignment — the president’s security detail. Zamora was allegedly discovered attempting to re-enter a woman’s room after accidentally leaving a bullet from his service weapon. The incident has not been previously reported.
In a follow-up investigation, agency officials also found that Zamora and another supervisor, Timothy Barraclough, had sent sexually suggestive emails to a female subordinate, according to those with knowledge of the case. Officials have removed Zamora from his position and have moved Barraclough off the detail to a separate part of the division.
Details about the Hay-Adams episode and related findings were provided by four people who have been briefed on the case, including two who have viewed summaries of the internal Secret Service review.
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan declined to comment on the internal review of the Hay-Adams incident or the supervisors’ alleged behavior. Donovan added that “we work diligently with our Office of Professional Responsibility and Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General” to resolve such cases “appropriately and quickly.”
But the inspector general’s office was unaware of the hotel incident or the related findings until The Washington Post began making inquiries about the case last month, according to people briefed on the matter.
The Secret Service did not refer the case to the inspector general until the week of Oct. 28. In a preliminary look, the office concluded that the Secret Service had handled the case administratively and that the alleged misconduct did not require independent review.
Bill Hillburg, a spokesman for the DHS Office of Inspector General, said the upcoming report on Secret Service culture seeks to answer whether the antics of agents in Cartagena were atypical or the result of a broader culture that includes excessive partying and womanizing. Hillburg declined to say whether the Hay-Adams case was part of the review.
“At each stage, as we conducted interviews, we were made aware of other incidents and potential misconduct that we are now pursuing,” Hillburg said.
The Hay-Adams, which overlooks the White House and served as the Obama family’s temporary home before the president’s first inauguration, is accustomed to seeing Secret Service agents on and off duty. One night in May, hotel staffers alerted the White House about odd behavior by an agent demanding access to one of their guest’s rooms.
According the Secret Service’s internal findings, Zamora was off duty when he met a woman at the hotel’s Off the Record bar and later joined her in her room.
The review found that Zamora had removed ammunition from the chamber of his government-issued handgun during his stay in the room and then left behind a single bullet. He returned to the room when he realized his mistake. The guest refused to let him back in. Zamora identified himself to hotel security as a Secret Service agent.
The incident triggered an investigation that included a routine search of Zamora’s government-issued BlackBerry, which contained sexually charged messages to the female agent, according to the people briefed on the findings.
The review of the communications revealed that Barraclough had also sent inappropriate and suggestive messages to the female agent, according to people familiar with the case.
The Post is not disclosing the woman’s name because she has not been disciplined.
All Secret Service employees must maintain top-secret security clearances to be employed.
An inspector general’s report that dealt with events in Cartagena and was released earlier this year said employees’ sexual behavior should be considered in granting or revoking security clearances “when the behavior may subject the individual to coercion, exploitation or duress, or reflects lack of judgment or discretion.”