Brazil stops two US Olympic swimmers from leaving over robbery case – Washington Post

Two U.S. Olympic swimmers were prevented from leaving Brazil on Wednesday night as differences emerged in their accounts of an armed robbery they said they endured last weekend.

The U.S. Olympic Committee said Wednesday evening that swimmers Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were removed from their return flight to the United States by Brazilian authorities.

Thursday morning, Officer Alexandre Braga of the Special Police Station for Tourism Support issued a statement confirming the detention of Bentz and Conger. USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky confirmed Thursday morning that the swimmers are still in Brazil, along with teammate James Feigen, and are cooperating with authorities.

“The three U.S. Olympic swimmers (Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and James Feigen) are cooperating with authorities and in the process of scheduling a time and place today to provide further statements to the Brazilian authorities,” the statement said. “All are represented by counsel and being appropriately supported by the USOC and the U.S. Consulate in Rio.”

Ryan Lochte, the fourth swimmer involved in the incident, has already returned to the United States. In his account, he said the swimmers used a gas station restroom and were robbed after that by two men with guns and badges. Thursday, ABC News reported a security camera caught one of the swimmers breaking down a door at the gas station and fighting with a security guard. ABC cited a Brazilian police source.

Separately, British Olympic officials confirmed that one of their athletes was the victim of a robbery early Tuesday. The team did not identify the athlete, who was reported safe, or provide any details of the incident, but it prompted officials to warn team members not to go out at night in Rio or wear distinctive “Team GB” gear identifying them as British Olympians. The Guardian newspaper reported that the athlete was robbed at gunpoint.

“We can confirm there has been an incident of theft involving a Team GB athlete returning to their accommodation,” a British Olympic team spokesman said in a statement. “All members of our delegation, including the individual concerned, are accounted for, and are safe and well.”

Bentz and Conger, a three-time All-Met swimmer of the year from Good Counsel High School, were pictured by Brazil’s TV Globo entering a police office at Rio de Janeiro’s international airport with their carry-on luggage, but they did not comment to a reporter. The O Globo newspaper reported that the swimmers had boarded United Airlines Flight 128 to Houston and that two representatives from the U.S. Consulate and one from the USOC had arrived at the airport to accompany them.

Earlier Wednesday, a Brazilian judge ruled that the passports of Feigen and Lochte should be seized after discrepancies emerged in their accounts of what transpired in early Sunday, after the four athletes left a dance party at the Club France official Olympic hospitality venue.

Judge Keyla Blanc de Cnop, from a special magistrate court set up for big sporting events, ruled that there were “possible divergences” in the versions of the robbery that the swimmers gave police.

In a statement released on the court’s website Wednesday, Blanc de Cnop said that in Lochte’s testimony to police, he said the athletes were stopped early Sunday by one robber who demanded all their money: $400. Blanc de Cnop said that Feigen, however, told police that the athletes were surprised by multiple robbers but that only one was armed.

Security footage published Wednesday by the Daily Mail showed the men arriving at Rio de Janeiro’s Athletes’ Village appearing unfazed after the alleged incident. Brazilians have reacted with anger to what many perceived as a false account of a robbery and began conjecturing over what might have happened.

Lochte’s lawyer Jeff Ostrow told The Post that his client was already back in the United States.

The State Department acknowledged the developments Wednesday night.

“We have seen media reports that two U.S. citizen athletes were detained,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. Due to privacy considerations, we do not have any further information to offer. We refer you to Brazilian authorities for more information about this case.”

News of the robbery broke Sunday, and confusion soon followed. A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee initially said the report of a robbery was “absolutely not true.” The spokesman later reversed himself, apologized and attributed the erroneous denial to information the IOC had been given by the USOC.

Lochte later told USA Today that he and the other swimmers did not immediately tell the USOC about the incident because “we were afraid we’d get in trouble.”

The swimmers had been at a birthday celebration and dance party at Club France, an Olympic hospitality venue beside the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, with Thiago Pereira, a Brazilian swimmer, and Pereira’s wife, Gabriela Pauletti. Pereira and Pauletti left the party before the Americans, who told police that they caught a taxi at a nearby gas station.

Lochte told NBC that he and three other swimmers, including Feigen, were robbed when their taxi was stopped. The others were made to lie on the ground, but Lochte said he refused.

“And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead, and he said, ‘Get down,’ and I put my hands up. I was like, ‘Whatever,’ ” he said.

Another doubt highlighted by the Brazilian judge concerns the time at which the swimmers reached the Athletes’ Village. The footage obtained by the Daily Mail shows them passing through a security check just before 7 a.m. — at least four hours after they were supposed to have left the party. In the footage, Lochte jokingly hits Feigen over the head with his Olympic credential.

“It was perceived that the supposed victims arrived with their physical and psychological integrity unshaken, even making jokes with each other,” the judge said, according to the court statement.

During NBC’s Olympic broadcast Wednesday night, host Matt Lauer told anchor Bob Costas of a telephone interview he said he had with Lochte on Wednesday. Lauer said Lochte was steadfast in saying the robbery took place and denied the notion that the swimmers had concocted a story to cover for some other behavior. Lauer said Lochte did alter two details from his earlier account, now saying their taxi had not been pulled over but had never left the gas station and that the gun had been pointed in his direction but not pressed to his forehead.

Ostrow confirmed that his client is in the United States.

“Ryan left the country after his events, after fully meeting with the Brazilian authorities, the State Department, the FBI — everybody who wanted to meet with him,” Ostrow said. “He made himself available and provided the Brazil police with a statement. He wasn’t told to stay around or that [the authorities] had other questions, but we told them we were still available if they had further questions. He was planning on leaving, and he left. I don’t know what they’re trying to do down there. If they need to get in touch with me, we have always been fully cooperating. Nobody has reached out to me. Nobody has reached out to Ryan.”

Ostrow also said that the incident happened “exactly the way Ryan described it” under oath to Brazilian police and that he believes Lochte’s account of the incident to the police was the same as the one he told on the “Today” show.

“They were robbed at gunpoint — the way he described it,” Ostrow said.

The San Antonio Express-News reported that Feigen, still in Brazil, declined to comment when contacted by the newspaper.

“I can’t talk right now,” Feigen said. “I’m still in Brazil, and [an interview] is going to have to wait.”

Carol Morello in Washington contributed to this report.


Write a Reply or Comment:

Your email address will not be published.*