Two US Olympics swimmers were dramatically stopped from leaving Brazil on Wednesday night and questioned for three hours by police – while Ryan Lochte changed his story about the armed robbery he claims they went through in Rio on Sunday morning.
Jack Conger, 21, and Gunnar Bentz, 20, were sat in their seats aboard United Airlines flight 128 to Houston at Rio’s Galeao International Airport when police came for them – as the situation threatened to escalate into a full blown international incident.
Describing the experience as ‘frightening’, the two cannot leave Brazil until they provide official sworn testimony about their alleged mugging at gunpoint along with Lochte and fourth teammate, James Feigen.
Meanwhile, Lochte, 32, has been spotted in in Charlotte, North Carolina with his Playmate girlfriend Kayla Reid.
The action comes amid increasing tension between Brazilian authorities and the American swimmers – as questions are raised about the truthfulness of their story, pitting Rio authorities and Olympic games against them.
Release: U.S Olympic swimmers Gunnar Bentz (2nd R) and Jack Conger (2nd L) leave the police headquarters at International departures of Rio de Janiero’s Galeo International airport early on Thursday morning
Relief: American swimmers Gunnar Bentz (C) and Jack Conger (L)leave the police station at the Rio de Janeiro International Airport after being detained on the plane that would travel back to the US
Attorney Sergio Viegas says Conger and Bentz have left the Rio de Janeiro airport for an unspecified location in Brazil and had yet to testify.
Earlier on Wednesday, Lochte, 32, and Feigen, 26, were barred from leaving Brazil – but Lochte had already left – as police say their accounts of the aftermath of the robbery do not match security footage exclusively obtained by DailyMail.com.
Upon leaving police custody early on Thursday morning, Conger and Bentz refused to answer questions.
According to the United States Olympic Committee, 26-year-old Feigen ‘intends to make further statements regarding the incident on Thursday as well.’
Viegas said, ‘There was a confusion, they are very scared by this. They didn’t understand what was happening or why they couldn’t embark.’
Stony faced: Gunnar Bentz (L) and Jack Conger (R) leave the police station after Brazilian police took them into custody while they were preparing to take off for home
Representation: Accompanied by Brazilian lawyer Sergio Viegas, (second from right), American Olympic swimmers Gunnar Bentz, (center), and Jack Conger, (right), leave the police station
He added: ‘In the dispatch from the judge it said they were witnesses, but the police are saying something else.
‘Until we understand what is happening, what fact has happened, and in which form they are being heard, they will not be giving any statement.
‘After this obviously they will collaborate with the justice system and the police.’
When asked if the athletes had really been robbed he said: ‘About the facts, we are not going to manifest now.’
Conger and Bentz had spent more than three hours being interrogated by the Federal Police before they were allowed to leave at 1:44am local time.
Journalists asked them repeatedly if they had lied or whether they stood by the story but the pair remained silent.
Dave Fogelson, a spokesman for the US Consulate, ushered them towards an awaiting black mini-van but the pair were met by a media scrum and appeared bemused by the scene.
‘We are just here to provide consular assistance,’ Fogelson said. ‘Due to privacy considerations we cannot give any more information but refer to Brazilian authorities in this matter for any more information.’
Detention: Gunnar Bentz (left) and Jack Conger (right) are pictured at Rio’s Galeao International Airport after being removed from a United Airlines 128 return flight back to Houston
Sullen faces: Gunnar Bentz makes to exit the gangway at Rio’s Galeao International Airport after being pulled from the flight while Jack Conger makes a phone call
To the station: Jack Conger (left) and Gunnar Bentz (right) walk through to the police station inside Rio airport
Circus: Media wait outside of a Rio police station after Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were removed from a United States bound flight so the Brazilian authorities could question them about a reported robbery involving them and teammate Ryan Lochte
Indeed, while speaking to NBC’s Matt Lauer on Wednesday night, Lochte stuck to his claim they were robbed but changed certain, crucial elements – while 5,000 miles away his younger teammates were being held at a police station.
Lochte backed off some of his earlier assertions. He now says the taxi wasn’t pulled over but that they were robbed of $400 after making a stop at a gas station.
Third man: Jimmy Feigen (pictured at the World Swimming Championships in 2013) was also detained by police on Wednesday
He also said the assailant pointed a gun at him rather than putting it to his head.
Lochte told Lauer in the telephone interview on Wednesday that he was not told by anyone in Brazil to remain in the country but said he would cooperate, albeit from the United States.
Lauer also gave Lochte a chance to address speculation the entire armed robbery story was fabricated to cover-up for another nefarious activity – possibly with someone they wouldn’t want to be associated with.
Lochte strongly denied this and said it was ‘absolutely not the case.’
‘I wouldn’t make up a story like this nor would the others — as a matter of fact we all feel it makes us look bad,’ said Lauer, quoting Lochte. ‘We’re victims in this and we’re happy that we’re safe.’
Crucially sources told DailyMail.com that Lochte is adamant that he did not have his wallet with him when he went through security at the athletes’ village.
However, footage of him at the checkpoint obtained by DailyMail.com showed him with an object in his hand – but which he claims was his cellphone.
Popping in for a visit: Ryan Lochte visited the Matt Lauer and Today Show hosts Hoda Kotb and Al Roker earlier in the week in Rio before his exit from Brazil
Rio highlight: Lochte with his sole medal from the games, the gold he won in the 4x200m freestyle relay
Party: Lochte shared a video on Snapchat in the early hours of Sunday morning just before the alleged robbery at Club France with Jimmy Feigen (above)
Lochte and his three teammates had previously said they were held up at gunpoint in a taxi as they returned to the athletes village from a night out, several hours after the last Olympic swimming events were held.
Police have found little evidence so far to support their accounts, and security video obtained by DailyMail.com clearly shows them returning to the Olympic village seemingly unfazed by their experience and still in possession of their valuables.
USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said on Wednesday night that ‘Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were removed from their flight to the United States by Brazilian authorities. We are gathering further information.’
Feigen checked in for a flight online but never showed up.
There are no charges facing the three men, according to police sources.
Representatives from the US consulate arrived at the airport shortly after the swimmers were held.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that they were aware of the situation.
‘We have seen media reports that two U.S. citizen athletes were detained. We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance,’ Kirby said in a statement.
Questions: Ryan Lochte (with blond hair) is seen entering the Olympic Village as his teammate Jimmy Feigen (in blue) is seen holding what appears to be a phone or wallet in one hand as he pulls out something else from his other pocket. Gunnar Bentz (being searched) also appeared to have two things in his hand
Drop off: Feigen (in blue) then drops two items into the bin which could be both a phone and a wallet. Bentz meanwhile atill seems to be holding both a phone and a wallet in his hand while being searched (center)
More questions: Bentz (on right in foreground) is seen holding what appears to be a phone in one hand and a wallet in another as he walks out of frame
On the one hand: As Feigen (in blue shirt) is searched he can be seen on one side holding his credentials and what looks to be a phone or wallet
On the other hand: Feigen looks to be holding either a phone or wallet on the flip side of his credentials
The investigation intensified on Wednesday as the swimmers started heading home to the U.S., and Brazilian judge Keyla Blanc De Cnop ordered the seizure of Lochte and Feigen’s passports.
The judge said the two Olympic teammates had given contradictory accounts of the alleged robbery.
Lochte told police in Rio there was one armed robber, while Feigen gave a statement claiming there were more, one of whom had a gun.
Indeed, Conger and Bentz were not named by the Brazilian judge who wanted Lochte and Jimmy Feigen’s passports seized, but now appear embroiled in the affair.
Answers needed: A look at Lochte’s alleged actions in the early hours of Sunday
Removed: Jack Conger (left with Ryan Lochte) was removed from a plane at Rio international airport trying to leave the country
Detained: US Swimmers Gunnar Bentz (first left) and Jimmy Feigen was detained trying to leave Brazil on Wednesday night after they claimed they were robbed at gunpoint along with US swimming star Ryan Lochte
Steve Bentz, father of Gunnar Bentz, when reached by phone late Wednesday night, said: ‘I really don’t want to say anything,’ and hung up.
ROBBERY TIMELINE – WHAT WE KNOW (AND WHAT WE DON’T KNOW)
Saturday 11pm: Club France opens for special celebration
Sunday 2.25am: Lochte posts video of himself and Brazilian swimmer Thiago Pereira inside the club. They later leave the club, buy popcorn from a street vendor and go to hail a cab.
5am: Club France closes
Sunday 2.25am – 6.30am: Lochte claims that at some point in this window men pretending to be police officers rob them of their wallets while they are in a cab
Sunday 6.56am: Security footage records the four arriving at the athletes’ village in a cheerful mood and laughing with one another.
Sunday afternoon: Lochte’s mother tells Fox Sports in an interview that her son was robbed earlier that day. The IOC meanwhile denies that a robbery took place.
Sunday night: Lochte is spotted by Billy Bush while walking down the beach and agrees to speak about the robbery in a segment videotaped by the NBC host using his iPhone.
Monday: IOC apologizes for the security lapse. Police say they are hunting the taxi driver.
Tuesday: DailyMail.com obtains the surveillance video of the men that shows them in the aftermath of the alleged robbery.
Tuesday afternoon: Lochte departs Rio and returns home to Florida.
Wednesday morning: Lochte and Jimmy Feigen’s passports are ordered to be seized by a judge. Investigators say in their report that all goods the men claimed were stolen were in their possession when they returned to the Village Sunday according to scans they obtained from the X-ray machine used by security.
Wednesday afternoon: The owner of the gas station where Lochte claims he caught a cab on Sunday tells DailyMail.com that video footage shows he was not there at any point on Sunday.
Lochte’s father, Steve Lochte, told The Associated Press by phone from his Florida home that his son called him Tuesday after arriving in the United States.
The 32-year-old swimmer was going to pick up his car and buy a new wallet to replace the one that he said was stolen in the robbery.
‘I’m just happy he’s safe,’ the elder Lochte said. ‘It was an unfortunate experience for him and the other three. I don’t know what all the controversy is. They were basically taken out of the taxi and robbed. The main thing is he’s very lucky that he’s safe and that all they got was his cash and wallet.’
The elder Lochte said his son’s Olympic credential and cell phone weren’t taken during the incident early Sunday morning. He said he was sure Ryan had his passport or he would not have been allowed to board a plane.
Associated Press reporters waiting outside Lochte’s home in North Carolina did not see the 12-time medalist.
Lochte’s attorney, Jeff Ostrow, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Earlier, Ostrow responded to claims the entire robbery was invented.
‘That’s BS. Ryan has always maintained there were number of them,’ said Ostrow to NBC.
‘I don’t know if three or four, but a number of them. If one guy walked up to him, he probably would’ve kicked his ass.’
A police official with knowledge of the investigation told the AP that police cannot find their taxi driver or witnesses from the robbery.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
The group did not call police, authorities said, and officers began investigating once they saw media reports in which Lochte’s mother spoke about the robbery.
Police interviewed Lochte and one other swimmer, who said they had been intoxicated and could not remember what type and color of taxi they rode in or where the robbery happened, the police official said.
The swimmers also could not say what time the events occurred.
Ostrow has said there is no question the robbery occurred.
‘Why would anybody fabricate anything?’ Steve Lochte said. ‘It’s just ridiculous.’
Wednesday evening’s sensational developments at the airport came after police arrived at the Olympic Village on Wednesday to seize the passports of Ryan Lochte and Jimmy Feigen in an attempt to keep them in the country for further questioning about the robbery they claim occurred early Sunday.
A judge gave authorities the go ahead after doubts began to grow over the claims made by the swimmers in light of the surveillance video obtained by DailyMail.com earlier this week showing the group laughing and smiling as they returned to the Olympic Village.
Lochte’s mother later broke the news of the alleged robbery later that day while speaking with Fox Sports.
Location: According to a statement made to police and cited by Judge Kayla Blank, the men said they picked up a cab from a nearby gas station (above)
Story not adding up: However, speaking to DailyMail Online.com, manager Lucas Alves (above) said he did not see Lochte or any of the other swimmers in surveillance footage
Warrant: The search and seizure warrant that has been issued in Brazil for Feigen and Lochte
The athletes are now accused of lying about the incident after the publication of the video Tuesday led investigators to change their line of inquiry.
A formal request for their passports to be seized reveals that the two men will now be investigated for the false communication of a crime, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail in Brazil.
Records retrieved by investigators from the X-ray machine through which the athletes passed in the Village also showed that the men were carrying all the belongings which they had claimed in sworn statements to police had been stolen.
In the statement a public prosecutor said that the images from the surveillance video, along with ‘contradictory’ statements made by the athletes to police, further reinforced investigators’ doubt about the veracity of the athletes’ claims they had been robbed.
Sneakerheads: Lochte showed off the expensive footwear being worn by the group Sunday, which was not taken in the alleged robbery (above)
It read: ‘One sees that the supposed victims arrived with their physical and psychological integrity intact, even playing with each other, showing that there wasn’t any psychological shock inherent to such alleged violence.
‘The more than calm behavior of the athletes straight after the supposed violence, together with other details present in the inquiry, makes me believe that more investigations should be undertaken into the possible false communication of a crime.’
Police also revealed that the surveillance footage, showing the swimmers arriving around 7am, was recorded more than three hours after the supposed robbery.
Lochte and Feigen, the only two of the group who have so far given statements to police, claimed they were so drunk they did not know exactly where they were robbed, nor what type of taxi they took to return to the athletes village.
Further confusion has been caused by Lochte and his team mate’s insistence that they left Club France at 4am – a claim that emerged in court papers released today.
According to a statement made to police and cited by Judge Kayla Blank, the men said they picked up a cab from a nearby gas station.
Hands up: Lochte detailed what allegedly happened in an interview with NBC on Sunday
However, speaking to DailyMail Online.com, manager Lucas Alves said he did not see Lochte or any of the other swimmers in surveillance footage when he reviewed it the following morning.
‘The police came and took all the video from that night,’ said Alves. ‘But I looked at it before they came and you could not see any of the swimmers on it.’
Ipiranga gas station sits on Avenida Borges de Medeiros, approximately 100 yards from the entrance to the Club France compound.
Club France is part of the French hospitality house – an effort to promote the country during the Olympics paid for by the country’s national delegation.
Blank, in her decision, noted that the men’s claim to have left at 4am were also contradicted by ‘the images at the location [Club France], which indicated a different time.’
The US Olympic Committee refused to comment on the athletes’ whereabouts but confirmed that Brazilian police were looking for the swimmers.
‘Local police arrived at the Olympic Village this a.m. and asked to meet with Ryan Lochte and James Feigen and collect their passports in order to secure further testimony from the athletes,’ spokesman Patrick Sandusky said.
‘The swim team moved out of the village after their competition ended, so we were not able to make the athletes available.
‘Additionally, as part of our standard security protocol, we do not make athlete travel plans public and therefore cannot confirm the athletes’ current location.’
Sandusky said the US team would ‘continue to cooperate with Brazilian authorities.’