The U.S. Olympic Committee (yes, the same one that originally denied that Ryan Lochte had been robbed) confirmed that the two young men were escorted from their plane by Brazilian authorities Wednesday night. Authorities are investigating whether Ryan Lochte, James Feigen, Conger and Bentz were actually robbed early Sunday morning in Rio de Janeiro as they originally claimed, denied, and then finally admitted.
A judge ordered Wednesday for Lochte to stay in Brazil and issued a search and seizure warrant for the swimmer. Lochte, however, had already left the country before police could seize his passport and ensure that he could answer questions in the investigation. It’s unclear if Feigen, for which a warrant was also issued, is still in the country.
Lochte flew out of Brazil on Monday, before the order was issued, federal police said. Authorities apparently showed up at the Olympic Village on Wednesday, only to find that the swimmers were not there for questioning.
“The swim team moved out of the village after their competition ended, so we were not able to make the athletes available,” said U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky said at the time.
“We will continue to cooperate with the Brazilian authorities,” he added.
The idea that such prominent athletes could be robbed by officers during the Olympics was a huge embarrassment for Brazil, underscoring longstanding concerns about holding the Games in a crime-plagued city like Rio de Janeiro.
But questions about the Americans’ testimony to the police are turning that embarrassment into anger, with many Brazilians wondering whether the athletes lied about the episode and smeared their country’s reputation.
American officials in Brazil and Washington were scrambling on Wednesday night to figure out what was occurring in Rio de Janeiro, according to senior American officials.
Brazilian law enforcement officials have kept American diplomatic and law enforcement officials at arm’s length as they have moved forward with their investigation, according to senior American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing an ongoing Brazilian investigation.
“We have seen media reports that two U.S. citizen athletes were detained,” said John Kirby, a State Department spokesman. “We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance.”
Shortly after they were removed from the plane, the two men were shown on the Globo television network as they were escorted to a police station in the airport. They declined to talk to a television reporter at the entrance to the station.
Lochte and the American swimmers claimed to have been robbed at gunpoint early Sunday after leaving a party when the taxi they were in was pulled over by criminals posing as police, the U.S. Olympic Committee said in a statement. In an interview with “Today’s” Billy Bush, Lochte described having a gun pointed at his forehead as the robbers stole their wallets.
Lochte’s mother also confirmed the story to USA Today.
It was a story that raised even more concerns over the safety of athletes in Rio de Janeiro. However, in recent days, the incident has been placed under a microscope, with some questioning the veracity of the report.
Lochte’s lawyer, Jeff Ostrow, rejected assertions that his client and the other swimmers might have fabricated details of their accounts, describing such claims as efforts by Brazilian officials to deflect criticism of problems in Rio.
“The country has a dark cloud over it for a million and one reasons, from their economy to their crime to their management of the Olympics,” said Ostrow, who is based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “My client has cooperated thoroughly with the Brazilian authorities and stands behind his statement.”
Still, there is growing speculation in Brazil that the episode might not have unfolded as the swimmers described it.
Rio authorities said they have not found the driver of the taxi the men were allegedly in and have had trouble finding witnesses to corroborate their story.
A video reportedly showing the athletes returning to the Olympic village shows what appears to be their wallets and phones, which they said were taken during the robbery, in their possession walking through metal detectors.
“You can see the supposed victims arriving without signs of being physically or psychologically shaken, even joking amongst themselves,” Judge Keyla Blanc de Cnop said in a statement to the New York Times.
Lochte and Feigen told Brazilian investigators that they left the party at Club France, a temporary venue set up to promote the country, at around 4 a.m. Sunday, according to local news reports.
But video cameras showed the swimmers leaving at 5:50 a.m., about an hour before they arrived at the Olympic Village at 6:56 a.m., according to Extra, a Rio newspaper.
There are other points of confusion in the accounts by Lochte and Feigen, the only swimmers to provide testimony to Brazilian investigators.
The men, who said they were intoxicated upon leaving the party, said they could not remember the color of the taxi they took, or where exactly the assault took place. Investigators have been unable to find the taxi driver who delivered the swimmers back to the village.
A prosecutor in Rio, André Buonora, said in a statement that the swimmers could face charges of providing false testimony if they had lied to investigators.
Despite the controversy, it is not uncommon for the police in Rio to be implicated in armed assaults.
Shortly before the Olympics, Jason Lee, a jujitsu champion from New Zealand, said he had been briefly kidnapped by police officers and forced to withdraw about $800 from his bank account.
Despite a history of such episodes in Rio, many Brazilians have grown defensive over criticism of the city. Some are lashing out at the swimmers, contending that they are hiding something.
“So, the American swimmer lied about the robbery?” Mariana Godoy, a television news announcer, asked in a Twitter post. She implied that Lochte was trying to cover up something untoward.
“He left one party and went to ‘another party’ and didn’t want to tell Mommy about it?” Godoy wrote.
Well for Godoy, it must have been a pretty interesting party if it caused the IOC and the Olympic Committee to originally deny that Lochte had been robbed after his mother spoke to the press about it. Then after USA Today confirms with his mother again and runs the story, suddenly everyone is saying ‘robbery.’
As any good journalist knows, when something looks, acts and just plain smells fishy, there’s usually something to it. If they had just been honest from the get go, nothing would have looked suspicious, but Lochte and his small band of young men didn’t help themselves by changing a big story like this. It’s doubtful this one will get swept under the rug that easily. You’ve got a country fighting to redeem something of their reputation from further smearing and young men who just need to get their stories straight.
Lochte, a 12-time Olympic gold medalist, won a gold medal in the 4×200 freestyle relay.