Did they lie? Questions arise over alleged armed robbery of US swimmers

Posted at 11:36 AM, Aug 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-17 15:34:57-04

RIO DE JANEIRO – A Brazilian judge has issued a search and seizure warrant for US Olympic swimmers Ryan Lochte and James Feigen as questions emerge about their account of being robbed at gunpoint early Sunday in Rio de Janeiro.

Police arrived Wednesday morning at the Olympic Village to take the swimmers’ passports and gather further testimony from them about the reported robbery, US Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky said.

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.”

Lochte, Feigen and fellow US swimmers Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger 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.

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 hospitality house hosted by France.

Lochte’s lawyer: He would have stayed

The seizure warrant for the men’s passports would prevent them leaving the country.

Sandusky said that due to security protocols, he could not disclose the swimmers’ whereabouts. But Lochte, one of swimming’s biggest stars, has already left Brazil and returned to the United States, his attorney, Jeff Ostrow, told CNN.

Ostrow told CNN that Lochte, a gold medal winner in the pool in Rio, had “fully cooperated with the Brazilian authorities while in Rio.”

“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.

“He left for the United States as he was planning to after he completed his events. He was not asked by the Brazilian authorities to remain in Brazil for further investigation.

“Had they asked, he would have stayed and assisted. They still have not reached out to ask for additional information.”

Earlier Wednesday, the lawyer said that he and Lochte stood by the account provided to authorities.

“We stand by what he provided in that interview and signed off on.”

Judge’s questions

But questions remain.

The judge who ordered the search warrants for the swimmers, and the seizure of their passports, was motivated by potential inconsistencies with the swimmers’ accounts, according to a statement from the Rio Justice tribunal.

The statement said that Judge Keyla Blanc De Cnop noted that Lochte had said a single robber approached the athletes and demanded all their money (400 real, or $124).

Feigen’s statement said a number of robbers targeted the athletes but only one was armed, the statement said.

Another potential issue highlighted by judge was the behavior of the athletes on arrival at the Olympic Village in the aftermath.

“It seems the alleged victims found their physical and psychological integrity were unshaken, even fooling about with each other,” said the judge, referring to footage from security cameras in the Olympic Village.

Video emerges

Public speculation has been 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 looking relatively relaxed, 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.

A spokeswoman for the Civil Police told CNN that the case had attracted attention among Brazilians 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.

She added that the issuance of search and seizure warrants was not a routine procedure but was sometimes done when concerns arose that information had been withheld.

She said that after Lochte’s statement to police, the three other swimmers were asked to present themselves at the police station to give their accounts. So far, only one had done so, she said.

Lochte’s harrowing account

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.

Speaking to NBC, Lochte described a harrowing encounter with the thieves.

“We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a police badge, no lights, no nothing — just a police badge and they pulled us over,” he said.

“They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground — they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so — I’m not getting down on the ground.

“And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,’ and I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever.’ He took our money, he took my wallet — he left my cell phone, he left my credentials.”