A call from a Washington hotel reporting that a US Secret Service agent was trying to force his way into a woman's room set in motion an internal investigation that has sent tremors through an agency still trying to restore its elite reputation.
The incident in May led to the Secret Service supervisor, Ignacio Zamora, being removed from President Barack Obama's security detail and demoted after being accused of leaving a bullet in the woman's room, senior federal law-enforcement officials said on Wednesday.
In a follow-up investigation, agency officials also found that Zamora and another supervisor, Timothy Barraclough, sent sexually suggestive e-mails to a female subordinate, according to those with knowledge of the case.
Officials have also moved Barraclough off the president's detail to a separate part of the division.
The investigation came a year after the agency was hit by a prostitution scandal, prompting vows from senior officials to curb a male-dominated culture of hard partying and other excesses. Details about the episode at Washington's Hay-Adams Hotel and related findings were provided by four people who have been briefed on the case, including two who have viewed summaries of the internal Secret Service review.
An attorney for Zamora and Barraclough declined to comment on the allegations or the Secret Service's internal inquiry.
The Hay-Adams, which overlooks the White House and served as the Obama family's temporary home before the president's first inauguration, is accustomed to seeing Secret Service agents on and off duty. One night in May, hotel staff alerted the White House about odd behaviour by an agent demanding access to one of their guest's rooms.
According the Secret Service's internal findings, Zamora was off-duty when he met a woman at the hotel bar and then joined her in her room.
The review found Zamora removed ammunition from the chamber of his government-issued handgun in the room and then left behind a single bullet.
Realising his mistake, he returned to the room, but the guest refused to allow him back in. The new incidents echo some of the elements of the most damaging scandal in the service's history, when male agents took prostitutes back to their rooms in Cartagena, Colombia, after a night of heavy drinking in April last year.
An agency that had a reputation as the elite of law enforcement was suddenly the subject of congressional hearings, multiple investigations and questions about whether it had fostered a male-dominated culture of sexism and partying.
Then-Director Mark Sullivan apologised for the scandal but called it an anomaly in an agency of 3,500 agents and 1,400 uniformed officers.