Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Baby, My Cash Money

It's All In the Details - Candidate for News Story of the Year

Escort Recounts Quarrel With Secret Service Agent

NY Times, By , April 18, 2012

CARTAGENA, Colombia — A Secret Service agent preparing for President Obama’s arrival at an international summit meeting and a single mother from Colombia who makes a living as a high-priced escort faced off in a room at the Hotel Caribe a week ago over how much he owed her for the previous night’s intercourse. “I tell him, ‘Baby, my cash money,’ ” the woman said in her first public comments on a spat that would soon spiral into a full-blown scandal.

The dispute - he offered $30 for services she thought they had agreed were worth 25 times that — triggered a tense early morning struggle in the hallway of the posh hotel involving the woman, another prostitute, Colombian police officers arguing on the women’s behalf and American federal agents who tried but failed to keep the matter — which has shaken the reputation of the Secret Service — from escalating.

Sitting on a couch in her living room wearing a short jean skirt, high-heeled espadrilles and a tight spandex top with a plunging neckline, the woman described how she and a girlfriend were approached by a group of American men at a discotheque. In an account that tracked with the official version of events coming out of Washington, but could not be independently confirmed, she said the men bought a bottle of Absolut vodka for the table and when that was finished bought a second one.

“They never told me they were with Obama,” she said. “They were very discreet.”

A taxi driver who picked up the woman at the Hotel Caribe the morning of the encounter said he heard her and another woman recount the dispute over payment. When approached by The Times, the woman was reluctant to speak about what occurred. As she nervously told her story, a friend gave details that seemed to corroborate her account.

There was a language gap between the 24-year-old woman, who declined to give her full name, and the American man who sat beside her all night and eventually invited her back to his room. She agreed, stopped on the way to buy condoms but told him he would have to give her a gift. He asked how much. Not knowing he worked for President Obama but figuring he was a well-heeled foreigner, she said she told him $800.

24-year-old single mom is known as Tania, she says agent offered $30 for $800 service

The price alone, she said, indicates that she is an escort, not a prostitute. “You have higher rank,” she said. “An escort is someone who a man can take out to dinner. She can dress nicely, wear nice makeup, speak and act like a lady. That’s me.”

By 6:30 the next morning, after being awoken by a telephone call from the hotel front desk reminding her that, under the hotel’s rules for prostitutes, she had to leave, whatever deal the two had agreed on had broken down. She recalled that the man told her he had been drunk when they discussed the price. He countered with an offer of 50,000 pesos, the equivalent of about $30.

Disgusted with such a low offer, she pressed the matter. He became angry, ordered her out of the room and called her an expletive, she said.

She said she was crying at that point and went across the hall, where another escort had spent the night with a second American man from the same group. Both women began trying to get the money.

They knocked on the door but got no response. She threatened to call the police, but the man’s friend begged her not to, saying they did not want trouble. Finally, she said, she left to go home but came across a policeman who was stationed on the hallway and called in an English-speaking colleague.

He accompanied her back to the room and the dispute escalated. Two other Americans from the club emerged from their rooms and stood guard in front of their friend’s locked door. The two Colombian officers tried to argue the woman’s case.

A hotel security officer arrived. Eventually, she lowered her demand to $250, which she said was the amount she has to pay the man who helps find her customers. Eager to resolve the matter fast, the American men eventually gave her a combination of dollars and local currency worth about $225, and she left.

It was only days later, once a friend she had shared her story with called to say that the dispute had made the television news, that she learned that the man had been a Secret Service agent.

She was dismayed, she said, that the news reports have described her as a prostitute as though she walked the streets picking up just anyone.

“It’s the same but it’s different,” she said, indicating that she is much more selective about her clients and charges much more than a streetwalker. “It’s like when you buy a fine rum or a BlackBerry or an iPhone. They have a different price.”

The woman veered between anger and fear as she told of her misadventure. “I’m scared,” she said, indicating she did not want the man she spent the night with to get into any trouble but now feared that he might retaliate against her.

“This is something really big,” she said. “This is the government of the United States. I have nervous attacks. I cry all the time.”

The Secret Service declined to comment on the woman’s account. Among the issues under review is whether the security personnel went out that night looking for prostitutes or whether they encountered them where they had been drinking.

“There was no evidence that these women were seeking these guys out — that they were waiting for Secret Service agents — but all of that is being looked into,” said Representative Peter T. King, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Mr. King, who was briefed on the matter on Tuesday by Mark Sullivan, the Secret Service director, said that the Secret Service agents at the hotel had provided conflicting reports about the night’s events.

“Some of them were saying they didn’t know they were prostitutes,” he said. “Some are saying they were women at the bar. I understand that there was quite a bit of drinking.”

When a reporter read the woman’s account to him over the phone on Wednesday, Mr. King said, “Nothing you are telling me contradicts what I have been told.” He said that there was no evidence that the women obtained information about the president’s security, but he added: “That is still be looked at.”
He said that investigators believe the youngest woman involved was 20 years old.

As for cooperating with the American investigators who are seeking to interview as many as 21 different women who they believe may have spent the night with American security officers in advance of Mr. Obama’s arrival, the woman who was involved in the payment dispute said she was not interested in that. She said she was planning to leave Cartagena soon.

Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting from Washington.

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