Cops: 2 US swimmers can’t leave Brazil until they give statements
RIO DE JANEIRO –U.S. swimming team members Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentzhave have been ordered to stay in Brazil until they give police a statement about about an incident in which they say they and two other swimmers were robbed, according to their attorney.
This as a judge in Brazil issued a warrant for their passports, effectively blocking three members from leaving the country until police are fully satisfied about their account of the robbery.
Conger and Bentz were removed from their flight from Rio de Janeiro to the United States Wednesday night by Brazilian authorities, US Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky told CNN Sports contributor Christine Brennan.
The swimmers have since been released, according to the USOC, with the understanding that they will continue discussing the incident on Thursday.
The athletes — Ryan Lochte, James Feigen, Conger and Bentz — reported being robbed at gunpoint early Sunday in a taxi bound for the Olympic Village by individuals posing as armed police officers, the US Olympic Committee said Sunday.
Brazilian authorities said they have questions about what actually happened that night.
Authorities are concerned about inconsistencies in their reports.
Civil police say the case attracted attention because the victims said their phones and watches hadn’t been taken — items that would be a prized target for thieves in crime-plagued Rio.
An attorney for Ryan Lochte told CNN he and three other swimmers are being targeted by Brazil after reporting they were robbed.
“When you have one of America’s athletes who comes out and said something happened to him that happens to people there every single day,” Jeff Ostrow told CNN over the phone Thursday, “that doesn’t look good for a country trying to have a successful Olympics.”
The plane incident follows reports that a Brazilian judge issued a search and seizure warrant for Lochte and Feigen’s passports as questions emerged about their accounts of the incident.
It’s not clear where Feigen is.
Federal police say Lochte left Brazil on Monday on a commercial flight, two days before the judicial order.
Ostrow confirmed to CNN earlier his client is back in the United States.
“He’s the victim. He didn’t commit a crime. Same with the other guys,” Ostrow said.
“The story needs to be about 20-something-year-old kids pulled off an airplane, they’re being detained to testify to police?” Ostrow said. “C’mon.”
Sergio Riera, an attorney for the Conger and Bentz, said the pair has been ordered not to leave the country until they give a statement to police about the reported incident.
The two were frightened and confused as to why they had been taken off their flight and exactly what they were being ordered to do by different authorities, Riera said.
“Until that confusion is resolved, they won’t be making statements [to police], but will later obviously be prepared to cooperate in whatever the police require,” Riera said.
It’s not clear if the two had their passports confiscated.
Lochte speaks to Lauer
Lochte said he wouldn’t make up a story like this, NBC’s Matt Lauer reported Wednesday night. He said Lochte told him he and his three teammates were victims. NBC is broadcasting the Games in Rio.
The robbery — during which one of the bandits was said to have put a gun to Lochte’s forehead — reportedly occurred after the athletes left a party at the French hospitality house. Lochte told Lauer on Wednesday, however, that the gunman pointed the gun at him, but it wasn’t against his head.
Ostrow told CNN the gun was pointed near his head, not against — a difference that was “a matter of inches.”
Ostrow told CNN that Lochte left Brazil at the time he was planning to and was not asked by Brazilian authorities to stay.
“Had they asked, he would have stayed and assisted. They still have not reached out to ask for additional information,” he said.
Ostrow said Lochte had “fully cooperated.”
“He sat for a victim interview with the Brazilian Tourist Police, USOC Security, State Department, FBI, and anyone else that the Brazilian authorities requested to be present,” he said.
Police arrived Wednesday morning at the Olympic Village to take the swimmers’ passports and gather further testimony from them about the reported robbery, Sandusky said earlier.
But the athletes were not there.
“The swim team moved out of the village after their competition ended, so we were not able to make the athletes available,” Sandusky said in a statement, adding that the committee would “continue to cooperate with Brazilian authorities.”
The US State Department said it’s aware of the reports but would not comment due to privacy concerns.
Brazilian civil police say they are still looking for the taxi driver the athletes say they were with when they were robbed. Police say they have asked the driver to come forward.
Judge Keyla Blanc De Cnop said the athletes’ jocular behavior upon arrival at the Olympic Village — combined with the inconsistencies in their statements — led police to question the veracity of their claim.
Judge Blanc De Cnop noted that Lochte had said a single robber approached the athletes and demanded all their money (400 real, or $124), while Feigen’s statement said a number of robbers targeted the athletes but only one was armed.
Ostrow denied that assertion, telling CNN that the stories of all four victims line up “95%.”
Initial reports regarding the robbery were confusing, with an International Olympic Committee spokesman first claiming the reports were “absolutely not true” at a press conference Sunday.
He later backtracked and apologized, saying he was relying on initial information from the US Olympic Committee that was incorrect.
Ostrow told CNN that the discrepancy came because Lochte first told his mother about the incident, and then she told the media about it.
Lochte held off on going to the media until he realized he was not in violation of any USOC rules, but by that time, the story had already gone public, Ostrow said.
And public speculation was fueled by the release of a video obtained by the Daily Mail, which it said was filmed shortly after the robbery.
The video appears to show the four swimmers returning to the Olympic Village, and in possession of high-value items that might be expected to have been taken in an armed robbery.
CNN is unable to authenticate the video.
Ostrow said the video doesn’t show a complete picture of what actually happened, especially considering there is no audio.
“That video shows me nothing — it shows guys coming home at six or seven in the morning and shows me they’re happy that they’re alive,” he said.
It also appears there may have been some language barriers to recording the statements of the swimmers.
Regardless, there is no indication of when Bentz, Conger and Feigen will be allowed to travel home.