WASHINGTON — The embattled director of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michele Leonhart, announced her retirement Tuesday in the wake of a furor over agents’ misconduct including their participation in sex parties with prostitutes supplied by drug cartels in Colombia.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Leonhart, a career DEA official who was confirmed as the agency’s top administrator in 2010, informed him of her decision earlier Tuesday.

Holder described the administrator, the first woman to reach the rank of special agent in charge, as “a trailblazer for equality and an inspiration to countless others.”

“She has devoted her life and her professional career to the defense of our nation and the protection of our citizens, and for that, I am deeply grateful,” Holder said in written statement.

Leonhart is expected to depart in mid-May.

Support for her continuing leadership of the $2 billion enforcement operation, however, began to seriously erode last month when the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded that agents posted in Colombia engaged in the sex parties where a local Colombian police officer often stood guard, protecting the agents’ firearms and other property.

In addition, the report found, three of the DEA agents — all described as supervisory special agents — were “provided money, expensive gifts and weapons from drug cartel members.”

Although the misconduct jeopardized the agents’ security clearances, the matter was never referred to the agency’s Office of Security Programs for review, and the agents were issued suspensions ranging from two to 10 days.

“Most of the sex parties occurred in government-leased quarters where agents’ laptops, BlackBerry devices and other government issued equipment were present … potentially exposing them to extortion, blackmail or coercion,” the report said.

Some of the DEA agents involved in the misconduct, the inspector general found, also were involved in investigations of two former Colombian police officers who initially provided information about the sex parties to DEA officials.

The leadership of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued a joint statement Tuesday, calling Leonhart’s retirement decision “appropriate.”

“With the opportunity now for fresh leadership, we are hopeful that the DEA can restore itself to an agency of distinction and excellence,” panel Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday that the inspector general’s general’s findings raised “legitimate and serious concerns” about DEA conduct.

“We continue to have concerns,” Earnest said.

The White House has pointedly declined to express support for Leonhart.

Contributing: David Jackson