RIO DE JANEIRO — You can blame a lot of things on Rio, but apparently not the strange case of Ryan Lochte—at least not if the local police and prosecutors are to believed.
The famous American swimmer, gold medalist, and erstwhile reality show protagonist made headlines earlier this week when he alleged he’d been robbed at gunpoint early Sunday after a night of partying.
Brazilian authorities now say Lochte and three other swimmers from the U.S. Olympic team, who filed a formal complaint about the supposed robbery, in fact lied about the crime to cover up the truth of the incident, according to a report on the website of O Globo Thursday morning. By this account, on the night in question they actually got into a fight with security guards at a gas station in western Rio near the Olympic Village.
Lochte is back in the United States, but his three teammates, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, and James Feigen are still in Brazil. Bentz and Conger were prevented from boarding a plane out of the country on Wednesday night.
Local officials maintain the supposed robbery was a story made up by the swimmers because they damaged a gas station’s bathroom door while they were drunk, and didn’t want to be blamed for the embarrassing incident.
First news of the event had come out when Lochte’s mother, Ileana Lochte, talked about it to American media on Sunday. She told USA Today he and his friends had been robbed at gunpoint at a party.
“I think they’re all shaken up. There were a few of them,” Ileana Lochte said. “They just took their wallets and basically that was it.”
Lochte himself told NBC, which broadcasts the games in the United States, that the four of them had been on their way back to the Olympic Village from a party when “We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing just a police badge, and they pulled us over.”
Lochte 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 cellphone, he left my credentials.”
The resulting scandal was a huge embarrassment for Brazilian authorities who have tried hard to play down Rio’s reputation as a crime capital. But the athletes’ testimony showed contradictions early on, and the police, who appeared to be implicated in Lochte’s account, immediately suspected him of falsely reporting a crime.
The story is front-page news in Brazil, which Lochte left earlier this week after initially cooperating with authorities. But officials removed Conger and Bentz from their Wednesday night flight to Houston, and are interviewing them for discrepancies, O Globo said.
Early Thursday, the USOC released a statement indicating that Conger and Bentz were no longer being detained but were not yet free to leave the country.
According to the statement: “Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were detained Wednesday night shortly before their flight was scheduled to depart from Rio. They were released by local authorities with the understanding that they would continue their discussions about the incident on Thursday. James Feigen is also communicating with local authorities and intends to make further statements regarding the incident on Thursday as well.”
The incident was confusing from the start, especially after USOC spokesman Mark Adams told reporters in Rio that the report of the robbery was “not true.” Lochte’s personal coach also denied it to USA Today. But his mother confirmed it and Lochte gave his dramatic account.
Brazilians, who’ve endured the scathing glare of the global spotlight for months, are particularly incensed with this latest turn, and on Wednesday a Brazilian judge ruled that the passports of Feigen and Lochte should be seized as well. Keyla Blanc de Cnop, a judge in a special magistrate court established for large sporting events, ruled that there were “possible divergences” in the versions of the robbery the swimmers gave the cops.
In a statement released on the court’s website Wednesday, Blanc de Cnop said Lochte’s testimony to police said the athletes were stopped early Sunday by one robber who demanded they hand over all their cash, a total of $400. But Feigen reportedly told cops that the athletes were confronted by multiple robbers—although only one was armed.
The Daily Mail published security footage of the men arriving at the Athlete’s Village on Sunday morning after the alleged incident looking as if nothing had happened. In the footage, the men are passing through a security check just before 7 a.m., some four hours after they said they left a birthday party they attended with Brazilian swimmer Thiago Pereira and his wife Gabriela Pauletti. In the footage, Lochte jokingly hits Feigen over the head with his Olympic credential.
Blanc de Cnop was not amused. “It was perceived that the supposed victims arrived with their physical and psychological integrity unshaken, even making jokes with each other,” the Folha de Sao Paulo reported the judge as saying on Wednesday.
Doubts about the incident cropped up as quickly as the news. An International Olympic Committee spokesman said the tale of the alleged robbery was “absolutely not true,” but he later reversed himself and apologized, saying he’d been given a confusing account by the USOC.
On Wednesday, NBC host Matt Lauer told Olympic anchor Bob Costas that Lochte had insisted the robbery had taken place, and that Lochte denied having fabricated a tale to cover up some other behavior. But Lauer said to Costas that Lochte had changed some details of his account. In their conversation on Wednesday, Lochte told Lauer that the man with the gun hadn’t pressed a gun to his forehead, but rather pointed it in his direction. And he told Lauer that the men were robbed when they stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom. In an earlier account to NBC, Lochte said the athletes had been forced off the road.
Lochte’s lawyer, Jeff Ostrow, told The Washington Post that his client is back in the U.S.
Ostrow also said that the incident happened “exactly the way Ryan described it” in testimony to Brazilian authorities, and that he believes Lochte’s account of the incident to the police was the same as the one he told on the Today show.
“They were robbed at gunpoint—the way he described it,” Ostrow told the Post.
Earlier this week, Lochte told USA Today that his fellow swimmers didn’t report the incident to the USOC right away because “we were afraid we’d get in trouble.”