The head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Michele Leonhart, is retiring in the wake of two damning reports that criticized DEA agents for attending prostitute-filled "sex parties" paid for by drug cartels in Colombia between 2001 and 2005.
After reports emerged on Tuesday afternoon that Leonhart was expected to resign soon, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement on her decision to retire. She will depart the agency in mid-May.
Meanwhile, a congressional panel will reportedly investigate the DEA agents' misconduct to determine whether they gave up sensitive information at the illicit festivities.
The potential leaking of secrets was discussed last week when Congress questioned Leonhart about the scandal, which was the subject of both a Department of Justice investigation and a confidential DEA report. Government officials are concerned that the cartels might have arranged the bacchanals to access government intelligence. While Leonhart denied that sensitive information was revealed at the parties, she admitted that the agents might have been compromised under the circumstances.
"It is incredibly concerning that, according to the DEA itself, there is a clear possibility that information was compromised as a result of these sex parties," House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform member and Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings told Reuters.
According to the DOJ report, DEA officials were not forthcoming with information while the investigation was underway, and in some cases redacted details. The report singled out four different US agencies — the DEA, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the US Marshals Services — for not properly handling sexual misconduct allegations against their agents.
DEA supervisors were called out for not only being aware of the sex parties, but also ignoring complaints from building managers due to the volume level at the events. The report cited ten agents for their involvement in various instances of misconduct over a period of several years. Seven of them eventually acknowledged their participation and received 2 to 10 day suspensions. Those involved said that they were not aware that cartels were fronting the bill for the prostitutes.
Leonhart started off as a Baltimore City police officer before moving into federal drug enforcement, and made history as the first woman to run a DEA field office. President George W. Bush appointed her DEA Administrator in 2007. She opposed relaxing federal marijuana regulation despite moves in various states to legalize medicinal and recreational cannabis use.
Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, one of Congress's strongest proponents for criminal drug policy reform, called Leonhart's resignation "appropriate" in a statement on Tuesday. He said he hoped that her successor would move to reschedule marijuana into a lower level.
"She has not prioritized or concentrated on drugs that actually lead people to commit crimes like heroin and methamphetamine," he said. "She was insubordinate to the president when she criticized his acknowledgement of the fact that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol."
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