Rio police: U.S. swimmers should be charged for made-up robbery story to cover gas station vandalism

"Let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret," Rio Olympic spokesman Mario Andrada said Thursday.
By Shawn Price and Doug G. Ware  |  Updated Aug. 18, 2016 at 11:05 PM
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RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- U.S. Olympic swimming gold medalist Ryan Lochte is not welcome in Rio de Janeiro, accused with three others of lying about being robbed at gunpoint to cover up a drunken episode at a gas station -- and then leaving Brazil just steps ahead of the Rio police.

Brazilian police are recommending charges being filed against Lochte and fellow swimmer James Feigen for false reporting of a crime, a civil police spokesperson said. It is now up to prosecutors to decide what is next.

Lochte and three American swimmers claimed they were robbed while taking a taxi to the Olympic Village early Sunday after a late party at the Team France house. The 12-time Olympic medalist claimed men posing as police stopped their taxi, forced them onto the ground and put a gun to his head before making off with his wallet.

Investigators said as they looked further into the tale, it began to fall apart.

Police say the four swimmers did take a taxi back to the village, but stopped at a gas station on the way and got into a fracas with a security officer there -- over damage to a restroom door. The gas station owner said Lochte, who later acknowledged being intoxicated, also urinated on the outer wall before leaving.

Video: NBC News/Today

When the Americans returned to their cab and tried to leave, the guard pulled his weapon to detain them until Rio police arrived.

Security video from the Avenue of the Americas, where the incident occurred, shows the men at the gas station and their spat with the guard. It also shows them trying to get into a different taxi.

The video does not show signs of an armed robbery.

Lochte and swimmers Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and James Feigen were finally allowed to leave after paying the station for the damage.

Authorities now believe the claims of armed robbery were fabricated -- intended to counter the events at the gas station.

According to one news report, which cited Brazilian police, Bentz and Conger have told police the robbery story was a ruse.

The U.S. Olympic Committee initially denied reports of the robbery on Sunday before acknowledging it. The committee has provided legal counsel for Bentz, Conger and Feigen as they cooperate further with Rio authorities.

"The three U.S. Olympic swimmers are cooperating with authorities," USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in a statement Thursday. "All are represented by counsel and being appropriately supported by the USOC and the U.S. Consulate in Rio."

Lochte, who won his sixth gold medal in Rio in the men's 4x200m relay. is back in the United States. He returned Tuesday, just hours after Rio police went to the Olympic Village looking for him.

Lochte's attorney, Jeff Ostrow, said the swimmer's return had been scheduled and was not an attempt to escape the investigation.

"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 told The Washington Post on Thursday. "He made himself available and provided the Brazil police with a statement. He wasn't told to stay around or that [police] had other questions ... He was planning on leaving and he left.

"I don't know what they're trying to do down there. ... We have always been fully cooperating."

Video: CBS News

Bentz and Conger were pulled off their return flight Wednesday night after a judge ordered the swimmers' passports held. They have have been told they cannot leave Brazil until they are questioned.

Feigen was also supposed to be on the flight, and even reportedly checked in for it, but he did not board. Police say he is still in Rio but his whereabouts have not been disclosed.

Investigators became suspicious of the swimmers' story when key details didn't line up.

For example, Lochte at first denied the robbery took place, but then said it had -- and that a man had even put a gun to his forehead. He later changed that detail, telling NBC News personality Matt Lauer on Wednesday night the robber had only pointed the gun in his direction.

Another confusing detail for police was the fact that the attackers didn't take any of the men's cellphones -- which are hot commodities on the Rio black market. Other security video also shows the swimmers returning to the Olympic Village at around 7 a.m. Sunday -- three hours later than Lochte claimed they got back -- and they were all apparently in good spirits.

"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.

Rio Olympic officials downplayed the ordeal Thursday, but it has angered people in the city, which has been dogged by reports of crime in their attempt to stage a successful Summer Games.

"Rio de Janeiro asks Mr. Lochte to not come back to the city," Rio Military Police Cpl. Anderson Valentim said. "People with bad characters are not welcome."

"These guys from abroad think they're superior to us, that they can come here, make a mess, lie about it and stain the image of Brazil," Rio resident Airton Rocha said.

"People in Rio are annoyed about this," resident Lucas Alves added. "They receive visitors well and this happens. It's a horrible thing."

Video: Ruptly

"No apologies from him or from the other athletes are needed," Rio Olympic spokesman Mario Andrada said. "We need to understand that these kids were trying to have fun. They came here, they represented their country to the best of their abilities.

"Let's give these kids a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret."

Judge Marcello Rubioli, the head of the court handling the case, said making a false claim to police is a minor infraction.

"It's not a serious crime. It's not a crime that is going to send them to prison. It's not a crime that's going to prevent them from returning home," he said.

Lochte, 32, the United States' second-most decorated Olympic swimmer after Michael Phelps, stood by his robbery claims in the NBC interview and said the conflicting details in the story are the result of trauma-induced stress.

"I wouldn't make up a story like this," he said. "As a matter of fact, we all feel it makes us look bad."

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