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Secret Service agent's troubles shock hometown ; Man who refused to pay prostitute grew up in Ransomville

As a boy growing up in Ransomville, Arthur Huntington was known as playful and rambunctious.

As a teenager at Wilson High School, he was respectful and trustworthy.

As a man, he was deemed worthy of protecting the president of the United States.

But now the kid who grew up in Ransomville is at the center of the Secret Service scandal.

It all fell apart about four weeks ago when Huntington, part of a Secret Service advance team for President Obama's diplomatic mission to South America, hired a prostitute after a night of partying with fellow agents.

When he awoke the next morning, the married, 41-year-old father of two children refused to pay the $800 fee the 24-year-old escort had negotiated before leaving a club.

Dania Londono Suarez says Huntington kicked her out of his plush hotel room with $50 in hand, but she refused to leave.

The local police interceded, and Huntington collected $250 from other agents and gave the money to Suarez, whose profession is legal in Colombia.

The Associated Press later received an anonymous tip of agents caught up in a prostitute scandal, and suddenly the highly regarded Secret Service was dragged into the mud.

"It breaks my heart. He was pretty rambunctious as a boy, but aren't all boys?" said Donna Logan, wife of retired Free Methodist minister Ron Logan. "We used to stop and pick up Art and his sisters for Sunday School."

Her husband shakes his head in their Sanborn home, a 15-minute drive from the Ransomville Free Methodist Church, where Logan once served as pastor and still ministers as a volunteer.

"The ugly, awful truth of committing transgressions is that people with skills, ability, talent -- and Art must have had those things to do the job he did -- can end up tragically," Logan said.

Almost two dozen agents and members of the military have been implicated in the scandal since it broke in mid-April, following a night of heavy drinking in Colombia's seaside city of Cartagena, just days before President Obama arrived for a Summit of the Americas.

Two agents have resigned -- one is believed to be Huntington -- and six others were forced out of the Secret Service, which has tightened rules governing agents when they travel overseas.

Obama has since appeared on late night television calling the agents involved "knuckleheads." But in Niagara County, those who know Huntington and his humble upbringing are calling it a tragedy.

Arthur H. Huntington, the agent's father, has nothing to say. He is angry reporters have pried into his family's life.

Another relative wept but refused to speak.

Defenders of Huntington in Rochester, where he attended college and worked before joining the Secret Service, say he is a devoted family man and that his wife, Jolie, plans to stay with him.

The couple and their sons have moved out of their suburban Maryland home, which is for sale, and have gone into hiding.

At the same time, Suarez has been hiding out in Spain, though she is now courting publicity with talk of lucrative photo shoots for magazines and a possible book deal.

Appearing on NBC's "Today" show Monday morning from Madrid, she called the Secret Service agents "stupid brutes" who flaunted "their well-defined abs" on the dance floor and treated her and fellow escorts as if they were familiar with paying for sex.

"The way they approached us, it seems obvious that they were used to doing it, because people who do this for the first time are very shy," she told the TV show.

All of this is enough to make heads spin back home among those who knew Huntington before he left for Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester to study criminal justice, after graduating from Wilson High School in 1989.

"Arthur came from very humble roots. He came from nothing, and he made something of himself," said a neighbor, who asked that his name be withheld. "We were all proud of him making it to the Secret Service."

Huntington, who has three sisters, was raised by his father in a tiny house on Youngstown-Lockport Road that was built in 1830. His parents, Arthur and Norma, separated when the children were young.

But friends and acquaintances said the father continued to take the children to the local Free Methodist church every Sunday and provide for them.

"Given their circumstances, they did the best they could. There was food on the table and the kids were scrubbed up and went to Sunday School," said Paul Livermore, another former pastor at the Free Methodist church who went on to teach theology at the seminary at Roberts Wesleyan.

Arthur Huntington, the father, earned money playing the guitar and singing, which he continues to do at venues from community centers to churches.

The younger Arthur played football in high school and was an office volunteer at Wilson High School.

Those who remember young Arthur are shocked he would end up in the middle of such a scandal.

"I couldn't think of anything at all that would tell me he would do something like this," said Charles Jufer, who coached the high school football team that Huntington played on.

Huntington was devoted to the team, according to Jufer, who is retired from a position as the school district's athletic director.

"He wasn't a starter. He was just a nice kid. He worked hard and never had a bad word to say about anybody," Jufer said.

Jufer and others wonder what will become of Huntington, who after college worked as a security guard at the Greater Rochester International Airport, then as a police officer in Florida before rising to the elite ranks of the Secret Service.

"He needs help rebuilding his life," Jufer said. "Some resources should be provided to help him start over."

Logan and his wife also feel compassion, though they say Huntington should have known better.

"Scandals occur with such rapidity today," the retired minister said. "We live too fast. We live in a pressure cooker. We don't know how to relax."

Donna Logan adds, "This could be what it takes, the very thing that might turn Arthur's life around. I pray that happens."

email: lmichel@buffnews.com