CARTAGENA, Colombia - An embarrassing scandal involving prostitutes and the US Secret Service has deepened, with 11 agents placed on leave and the agency offering regret for the mess that threatens to overshadow Barack Obama's diplomatic mission to Latin America.
The controversy also expanded to the US military, which announced five service members staying at the same hotel may have been involved in misconduct as well. They have been confined to quarters in Colombia and ordered not to have contact with others.
All the alleged activities took place before the US president arrived in the port city on Friday for meetings with 33 other regional leaders.
Put together, the allegations were an embarrassment for a US president on foreign soil and threatened to upend White House efforts to keep his trip focused squarely on boosting economic ties with fast-growing Latin America.
Obama was holding two days of meetings at the Summit of the Americas with Latin American leaders before heading back to Washington on Sunday night.
The Secret Service did not disclose the nature of the misconduct. The Associated Press confirmed on Friday it involved prostitutes.
The White House said Obama had been briefed about the incidents but would not comment on his reaction.
"The president does have full confidence in the United States Secret Service," presidential spokesman Jay Carney said when asked.
Secret Service assistant director Paul Morrissey said in a statement: "We regret any distraction from the Summit of the Americas this situation has caused."
Peter King, chairman of the House of Representatives homeland security committee, told the AP after he was briefed on the investigation on Saturday that "close to" all 11 of the agents involved had brought women back to their rooms at a hotel separate from where Obama was staying.
The New York Republican said the women were "presumed to be prostitutes" but investigators were interviewing the agents.
The 11 employees in question were special agents and Uniformed Division Officers. None were assigned to directly protect Obama.
All were sent home and replaced, Morrissey said, given "the nature of the allegations" and a zero tolerance policy on personal misconduct.
Meanwhile, the US Southern Command said five service members assigned to support the Secret Service violated their curfew and may have been involved in inappropriate conduct. Carney said it was part of the same incident involving the Secret Service.
As for the apparent misconduct by the military members, General Douglas Fraser, commander of US Southern Command, said he was "disappointed by the entire incident" and said the behaviour was "not in keeping with the professional standards expected of members of the United States military".