US drug enforcement head retires after sex scandal

Michele Leonhart, the head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration is retiring, following a scandal involving drug agents attending orgies with cartel-hired prostitutes abroad (AFP Photo/Antonio Scorza)

Washington (AFP) - The head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration is to retire, an official said Tuesday, following a scandal involving drug agents attending orgies with cartel-hired prostitutes abroad.

Michele Leonhart, 59, head of the anti-drug trafficking law enforcement agency, is retiring in mid-May, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

The DEA came under intense criticism following a Justice Department report at the end of March that found agents attended orgies with prostitutes they should have known were hired by a drug cartel.

The sex parties reportedly took place in Colombia.

Agents attended the parties hosted at government-leased headquarters over the course of several years, the report said.

- Clashing with the president -

Some of Leonhart's positions on drug enforcement had long been in conflict with those of Obama.

But it seems the key factor in her decision to step down is management of the prostitution scandal.

Seven agents who admitted to the accusations were given suspensions of two to 10 days.

The report into the behavior of federal agents was commissioned after a scandal in the US Secret Service saw agents there hire prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia ahead of a presidential visit.

The scandal prompted congressional hearings by irate lawmakers.

Leonhart had also broken with the White House on marijuana policy.

She was against moves by states like Colorado and Washington to legalize its use, even as President Barack Obama said they should be allowed to go forward, the New York Times said.

She also resisted a push to reduce penalties for its use and distribution.

The Times said her retirement could ignite a congressional battle on who to nominate to take her place.

Some liberal Democrats are calling on Obama to name an administrator who backs a change in policy on marijuana, and conservative lawmakers opposing such a move, the Times said.

Holder hailed Leonhart's achievements as a law enforcer and her leadership of the DEA since 2007.

"As the first woman ever to reach the rank of Special Agent in Charge, she was a trailblazer for equality and an inspiration to countless others," Holder wrote.

Holder sent a note to the Justice Department's 113,000 employees earlier this month reminding them not to consort with prostitutes.

After word broke of Leonhart's resignation announcement, some members of the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee welcomed the news, the Washington Post reported.

"With the opportunity now for fresh leadership, we are hopeful that the DEA can restore itself to an agency of distinction and excellence," said Chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from the western state of Utah, and ranking Democrat Elijah E. Cummings, who comes from the eastern state of Maryland.