2 U.S. swimmers pulled off plane in Brazil amid probe into Ryan Lochte robbery story

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RIO DE JANEIRO -- American Olympic swimmers Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were pulled off their flight from Rio de Janeiro to the United States overnight and have been ordered to stay in Brazil until they give police a statement over a reported robbery.

The athletes and two other U.S. swimmers, Ryan Lochte and James Feigen, reported being robbed at gunpoint early Sunday in a taxi bound for the Olympic Village by individuals posing as armed police officers, the U.S. Olympic Committee said.

The committee said Brazilian authorities had removed the swimmers from the U.S.-bound plane Wednesday night and that they had since been released, with the understanding they would continue discussing the incident Thursday.

Brazilian authorities said they have questions about what happened that night and have concerns over inconsistencies in different accounts of the events.

Conflicting accounts?

The USOC said the robbery occurred after the athletes left a party at the French hospitality house.

On Sunday, Lochte gave a chilling account to NBC, which is broadcasting the Olympics in the United States, saying the swimmers' taxi was pulled over and men flashed a police badge at the Americans before forcing them to the ground. After Lochte refused to get down, he said a man cocked a gun and pressed it against his head.

But he changed his account slightly Wednesday, NBC reported, saying the men were robbed after using a toilet at a gas station, and that after their taxi driver refused to drive away, two men forced them to the ground, one pointing a gun inches from Lochte as he refused.

An attorney for Lochte, Jeff Ostrow, brushed off the discrepancy, saying the gun was pointed near his client's head, not against it, adding the difference was just "a matter of inches."

Civil police said the case attracted their attention because the swimmers said their phones and watches weren't stolen -- items typically targeted by thieves in crime-plagued Rio.

Brazilian Judge Keyla Blanc De Cnop said the athletes' jocular behavior upon arrival at the Olympic Village -- combined with inconsistencies in their statements -- led police to question the veracity of their claim.

The judge noted that Lochte had said a single robber approached the athletes and demanded all their money ($124), while Feigen's statement said a number of robbers targeted the athletes but only one was armed.

Ostrow denied the accounts significantly differed, saying the stories of all four victims line up "95 percent."

Initial reports regarding the robbery were confusing, with an International Olympic Committee spokesman first saying they were "absolutely not true" at a news conference Sunday.

He later backtracked and apologized, saying he was relying on initial information from the USOC that was incorrect.

Ostrow said the discrepancy came because Lochte first told his mother about the incident and then she relayed it to the media.

Lochte held off on going to the media until he realized he was not in violation of any USOC rules, but by then, the story had gone public, Ostrow said.

Public speculation about the incident was fueled by the release of a video obtained by the Daily Mail, which it said was filmed shortly after the reported robbery.

The video appears to show the four swimmers returning to the Olympic Village, and in possession of high-value items that might be expected to have been taken in an armed robbery.

Ostrow said the video doesn't show a complete picture of what happened, especially considering there is no audio.

"That video shows me nothing -- it shows guys coming home at 6 or 7 in the morning and shows me they're happy that they're alive," he said.

String of thefts

Ostrow suggested authorities were unfairly targeting the swimmers.

"When you have one of America's athletes who comes out and said something happened to him that happens to people there every single day, that doesn't look good for a country trying to have a successful Olympics," Ostrow said.

The swimmers are not the only athletes in Rio to complain of theft.

The British Olympic Association said on Thursday that one of its athletes had been a victim of theft there.

"We can confirm there has been an incident of theft involving a Team GB athlete returning to their accommodation. All members of our delegation, including the individual concerned, are accounted for, and are safe and well," a representative said.

The Australian team also said they had property stolen during a fire evacuation of the team's building in the Olympic Village.

'He's the victim'

The removal of the swimmers from the plane Wednesday night follows reports that a Brazilian judge issued a search and seizure warrant for Lochte's and Feigen's passports as questions emerged about their accounts.

Federal Police say Lochte left Brazil on Monday on a commercial flight, two days before the judicial order. Ostrow confirmed earlier his client returned to the United States.

"He's the victim. He didn't commit a crime. Same with the other guys," Ostrow said. "The story needs to be about 20-something-year-old kids pulled off an airplane, they're being detained to testify to police? C'mon."

It's not clear where Feigen is.

Sergio Riera, an attorney for Conger and Bentz, said the swimmers were frightened and confused as to why they had been taken off their flight and over what they were being ordered to do by different authorities.

"Until that confusion is resolved, they won't be making statements (to police) but will later obviously be prepared to cooperate in whatever the police require," Riera said.

It's not clear if the two had their passports confiscated.

Brazilian civil police say they continue to look for the taxi driver with whom the athletes say they were riding. Police say they have asked the driver to come forward.

 

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