Already under fire for bungled undercover gun operation, the Justice Department is facing a new investigation over whether the FBI paid taxpayer money to hire prostitutes as a reward for suspects under investigation.
First the Secret Service, now the FBI?
The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee is investigating whether an undercover FBI agent may have used $14,500 to reward people he was investigating by hiring prostitutes.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is demanding answers after a motion surfaced in a federal court case in California alleging the undercover agent took suspects repeatedly to brothels in the Philippines and then sought $14,500 in reimbursment for "rewards." Adding to the concern is some of the brothels are believed to have used minors for sex.
"If true, this story raises serious questions about the behavior of this agent and the FBI’s knowledge of this matter," Grassley wrote in a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller last week.
FBI spokesman Bill Carter said the agency cannot comment on the situation because it is pending in the California courts.
"The matter has been raised in the courts and it will be responded to appropriately to in the courts," he said. "Obviously the letter from the senator will be responded to by the director with an appropriate response.”
The allegations are the latest to surface about possible inappropriate interactions with prostitutes by federal law enforcement and U.S. military officials. Earlier this year, the Secret Service investigated several agents on the president's advance security detail over allegations they were involved with a prostitute at a hotel in Colombia.
A motion filed in U.S. District Court in California by three accused gun smugglers accuses an FBI undercover agent in the Philippines of using $14,500 in reimbursements for prostitutes.
Defense lawyers are trying to use the prostitution allegations to argue the U.S. government has engaged in bad behavior while investigating their clients.
"The government’s actions in this case, if committed by a private citizen, would be serious federal crimes," federal public defender Sean Kennedy wrote in the motion.
Kennedy argues that his client and two other men have become the fall-guys "after the government’s effort to ensnare a true weapons trafficker fell apart." The defendants provided the undercover FBI agent with weapons, but it was the agent acting alone who shipped them to the U.S., Kennedy argued.
In order to encourage the defendants to continue providing weapons, the FBI agent rewarded them with prostitutes, Kennedy wrote.
“On several occasions, the undercover agent invited [the cooperating individuals] to . . . brothels in and around Manila in order to reward them for their efforts and encourage them to continue looking for weapons," the motion said.
Grassley cited the motion in demanding answers from the FBI, and raised the possibility that some of the prostitutes were minors at a brothel frequented by the agent.
"The Philippine government raided the brothel and rescued 60 victims of human trafficking, 20 of whom were minors," Grassley's letter to the FBI alleges.
A copy of an FBI correspondence, provided by Grassley, shows the undercover agent in the Philippines requested reimbursement for $14,500. The agent requested the money for thousands of dollars in drinks and "entertainment" according to the sheet, mostly at night clubs and lounges around Manila.
"Although the government represents that these expenditures were for 'entertainment and cocktail (tips included),' it is impossible that the agent could not have known that the money went toward prostitutes," Kennedy argued.
Grassley wrote that he wants several questions answered, including how much of the $14,500 did the FBI actually reimburse, whether other government officials visited the brothels and how much knowledge the FBI hierarchy had about the agent's actions.
The Department of Justice is already facing criticism - including from its own internal watchdog and Grassley - about the Fast and Furious gun running scandal in which Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents allowed hundreds of weapons to flow to suspected drug cartels in Mexico. Two of the weapons later showed up at the murder of a U.S. border agent and many others at crimes scenes on both sides of the border.
A report released earlier this month by the department's internal watchdog heavily criticized ATF and Justice Department officials, but concluded Attorney General Eric Holder didn't know about the gun strategy while it was being used.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, is one of the governments law enforcement agencies, focused on combating domestic terrorism and drug smuggling.
The Department of Justice, or DOJ, is the federal agency charged with enforcing laws and investigating criminal behavior. It heads such agencies as the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.