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Cabbie unlikely celebrity in Colombia sex scandal

Associated Press Modified: April 21, 2012 at 11:00 pm •  Published: April 21, 2012
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It didn't help that Hotel Caribe workers were muzzled by their employer and normally helpful senior Colombian police and government officials also clammed up.

One news outlet eventually published photos, found on Facebook, that it said were of the woman who set off the scandal.

The Facebook page was taken down soon after, but by then reporters had a photo of the bikini-clad woman to help in their search. It was shown to desk clerks, maids and bellhops in hopes they would identify her as having been at the hotel.

Neighbors of the home where Pena took journalists identified the woman as "Dania," a woman in her mid-20s from the Caribbean island of San Andres who abandoned her home Wednesday morning with her 9-year-old son and live-in maid and went into hiding.

Other taxi drivers also tried to cash in on the media frenzy. One tried to charge a reporter eight times the customary fee.

"Pena charged 500,000 pesos ($280) for the same thing," driver Marcos Miranda objected after a two-hour hire before resignedly accepting the equivalent of $30.

Yet Pena also broke a code of silence that protects sex workers and others, including cabbies, who take a cut of their earnings in exchange for finding clients, several drivers said privately.

Pena sounded distressed Friday in a phone conversation. Colombian prosecutors had called him in for questioning later that morning and he said he was afraid of being thrown in jail.

An Associated Press reporter who was still trying to catch up with him to have him identify the published photo as the woman he drove home from the Hotel Caribe encountered a worried mother, Gloria Hoyos, at the family home. "I don't eat. I don't sleep," she said, fighting back tears.

By Saturday, Pena's dizzying ride helping the media was over.

His one-story house in a lower-middle class neighborhood, where his 68-year-old mother sells gelatin desserts and flavored ice through barred windows, was shuttered and sealed with a padlock.

The woman known has Dania, meanwhile, has retained a lawyer named Marlon Betancourt, who has refused requests by the AP for comment. But he told another news organization that his client expects to sue the Secret Service agent for abusive behavior.

And his client intends to sell her story.

A police officer at the prosecutor's office, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, predicted big things for "Dania."

"She's going to be famous," he said. "Just wait. She'll be on the cover of Playboy magazine."

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Associated Press writers Pedro Mendoza and Marko Alvarez in Cartagena and Vivian Sequera in Bogota contributed to this report.

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Frank Bajak on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fbajak