Matt Hazlett/Getty Images(RIO DE JANEIRO) — Four U.S. Olympic swimmers have been caught up in controversy this week over an alleged robbery in Brazil. Here’s everything we know so far and what questions still remain.
U.S. Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte claimed on Sunday that he and three teammates — Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and James Feigen — were robbed after being pulled over in a taxi by men with guns and badges early that morning while heading back to the Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro. Lochte said that his money was taken.
Lochte, 32, then told NBC News’ Matt Lauer Wednesday that the swimmers had used a restroom at a gas station and when they got back to their taxi, the driver didn’t move. That’s when two men approached with guns and badges and told them to get out and get down, Lochte said.
But Rio’s Civil Police Chief Fernando Veloso said the four U.S. swimmers were not robbed.
He said one or more of the U.S. Olympians vandalized a bathroom at the gas station after they left a party early Sunday. The athletes broke mirrors and damaged other things in the bathroom, police said.
The athletes initially refused to stay, but security asked the taxi not to leave, police said. Another person stepped in to intervene and translate between the athletes and the guards, and the athletes left money, police said.
Veloso added that a taxi driver picked up two women from the same party and that the women said they were “dating” or had relations with the swimmers.
Police said that witnesses were initially afraid to speak to police because of the possibility of retaliation from the high-profile foreign athletes involved.
There was no evidence of violence against the athletes, police noted.
The investigation is ongoing.
Sources who spoke to the four swimmers Thursday disputed the Brazilian police characterization of what happened, telling ABC News that Lochte and the others were held up by gunmen until the athletes handed over hundreds of dollars.
Surveillance video obtained by Brazil’s Globo TV shows the swimmers at a gas station. Additional surveillance footage obtained by Globo TV shows the swimmers arriving at a French House party around 1:45 a.m. and leaving four hours later. According to a judge in the case, the athletes claimed to have left the party at 4 a.m.
Where Are the Swimmers Now?
Lochte, Bentz and Conger have returned to the United States, but Feigen remains in Brazil.
Bentz, 20, and Conger, 21, were removed from their U.S.-bound flight Wednesday evening by Brazilian police, who then interviewed the pair about Lochte’s claim that he, Bentz, Conger and Feigen were robbed at gunpoint in Rio.
Sergio Riera, a Brazilian criminalist who is the attorney for Conger and Bentz, said the two swimmers “didn’t understand why they couldn’t board the plane.”
“They were very scared. It’s confusing because the police chief is saying one thing, and the judge is saying something else,” Riera said.
The United States Olympic Committee said Conger, of Rockville, Maryland, and Bentz, of Atlanta, left Rio Thursday night after giving statements to authorities and getting their passports back.
The duo arrived at Miami International Airport around 6:30 a.m. Friday.
Lochte, born in Rochester, New York, returned to the United States Monday.
Will They Be Charged?
On Thursday, Brazilian officials recommended that Lochte and Feigen face charges of false reporting of a crime, a civil police spokesman said.
In a statement, Lochte’s attorney Jeff Ostrow said he wasn’t aware “of the federal police recommending charges for filing a false police report.”
“I am not surprised to hear it though. They’ve gone this far and have failed to acknowledge that the robbery actually took place, so that would be the natural next step,” he said. “A gun was pointed at the swimmers and they were forced to get out of their cab and give up their money. No matter what happened at that gas station, the swimmers were robbed by people with a gun appearing to be law enforcement. No matter what country you are in that is robbery and robbery is a serious crime.”
Ostrow told ESPN that authorities have not reached out to Lochte since he gave his initial statement Sunday night.
“The authorities know how to get in touch with me, and we would cooperate,” Ostrow said. “But I haven’t heard from anyone.”
Lochte was not asked by authorities to stay in the country, Ostrow added.
Lochte issued an apology Friday “for not being more careful and candid” when explaining what happened in Rio last weekend.
If Lochte is charged, Barrozo predicts that it would be resolved in about a week as a bench trial before the judge and not a jury. If it was handled by a regular Brazilian court, Barrozo thinks the “outcome would probably be the same,” but it would take a lot longer.
Meanwhile, Feigen agreed Thursday to make an almost $11,000 donation to a Brazilian charity in an effort to resolve the dispute over the robbery claim, his lawyer said.
Feigen’s lawyer in Rio, Breno Melaragno Costa, announced the agreement early this morning, hours after he sat down with a judge and officials from the prosecuting ministry at a police station in Rio for four hours. The 26-year-old swimmer agreed to donate 35,000 reals, or roughly $11,000, to a Brazilian charity called Reaction Institute.
Costa said that Feigen’s passport would be returned and he will be free to leave the country and return home to San Antonio, Texas, after the payment is made.
Feigen also provided a revised statement to Brazilian authorities Thursday night in the hopes of getting his passport released, according to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Will Lochte Be Extradited to Brazil?
Legal experts said the chances of Lochte or his teammates’ being extradited or forced to return to Brazil are slim.
The United States and Brazil have a long-standing extradition agreement in the form of a treaty, which outlines the crimes a citizen must be charged with or convicted of in order for the other country to be willing to extradite a citizen. The crimes listed – including murder, rape and arson — are much more grave than those alleged here.
Who Were the Women?
During a news conference Thursday night, Rio police said two young women who left the same party as Lochte, Bentz, Conger and Feigen told a taxi driver that they had “stayed” with the swimmers. This may have been a “motive” for the fabricated claims, police said.
The identities of these women remain unknown.
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