By Helen Murphy and Luis Jaime Acosta
CARTAGENA, Colombia (Reuters) - Secret agents charged with protecting President Barack Obama during a summit in Colombia have instead embarrassed him by getting caught apparently trying to party with prostitutes.
At least one member of the Secret Service - famous for dark shades, sharp suits and stern demeanor - tried to take a prostitute up to a hotel room in tropical Cartagena without registering her, a local policeman told Reuters.
The U.S. government said only that some agents were sent home after allegations of "misconduct" and would face the agency's Office of Professional Responsibility. The White House said Obama was briefed on the matter on Friday.
It was the main topic of conversation among diplomats behind the scenes of the Summit of the Americas, adding an unwelcome twist to Obama's efforts to win back a region where U.S. influence is steadily waning.
"We don't like what they did. It makes our city look bad. They came to look after their president, not to have a party," Cartagena street-seller Rosa Elena Prieto said of the scandal. "The weak flesh of men costs them their jobs."
The manager of Cartagena's Caribe Hotel, where the incident occurred, declined to give details. She asked media instead to report on the cordial welcome she had given journalists in a coastal town famous for its charm and warmth.
U.S. media reported that various agents had sought prostitutes in Cartagena.
The town's cobble-stoned colonial quarter, featured in the 1984 Hollywood action comedy "Romancing the Stone", offers thriving night life, complete with free-flowing rum and salsa music, for foreigners that come to visit the nearby beaches.
English-speaking "fixers" provide foreign tourists with a range of shady diversions including prostitutes, cocaine and cock-fights.
The Colombian policeman said the U.S. agent had tried to use a government badge to persuade hotel staff to allow the prostitute into the hotel without registering.
U.S. soldiers and contractors participating in U.S.-backed anti-narcotics efforts in Colombia have in the past been involved in sex scandals in rural areas near the bases where they were stationed.
An official at one of the main summit hotels said the U.S. security personnel were changed after the incident to include more Spanish-speaking women. "There are a lot more women than before. They speak Spanish and they are very rigorous," she said.
(Additional reporting by Mario Naranjo, Writing by Brian Ellsworth, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)