By Mauricio Savarese And Beth Harris The Associated Press
RIO DE JANEIRO — Two Olympic swimmers were taken off their flight from Brazil to the U.S. on Wednesday by local authorities amid an investigation into a reported robbery targeting Ryan Lochte and his teammates.
U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky confirmed Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were detained but had no other details.
Representatives from the U.S. consulate arrived at the airport shortly after the swimmers were held.
The action comes amid increasing tension between Brazilian authorities and the American swimmers over their account of the robbery.
Lochte said he was with Conger, Bentz and Jimmy Feigen when they were robbed at gunpoint in a taxi by men with a police badge as they returned to the athletes village from a party, several hours after the last Olympic swimming events were held Sunday.
Police have found little evidence so far to support their accounts, and say the swimmers were unable to provide key details in police interviews.
NBC reported Wednesday night that Lochte backed off some of his earlier claims. He now says the taxi wasn’t pulled over but that they were robbed after making a stop at a gas station.
He also said the assailant pointed a gun at him rather than putting it to his head.
The investigation intensified Wednesday as the swimmers started heading home to the U.S., and a Brazilian judge ordered the seizure of Lochte and Feigen’s passports.
The office of Judge Keyla Blanc said in a statement that there were discrepancies in Lochte and Feigen’s statements.
The U.S. Olympic Committee said police went to the athletes village to try to collect the passports, but the swim team had already moved out.
Lochte has already returned to the U.S., and Conger and Bentz boarded a plane later Wednesday only to be removed by the authorities. Feigen’s whereabouts are not known, though he told the San Antonio Express-News he was still in Brazil.
Steve Bentz, father of Gunnar Bentz, when reached by phone late Wednesday night, said: “I really don’t want to say anything,” and hung up.
Lochte’s father, Steve Lochte, told The Associated Press by phone from his Florida home that his son called him Tuesday after arriving in the United States. The 32-year-old swimmer was going to pick up his car and buy a new wallet to replace the one that he said was stolen in the robbery.
“I’m just happy he’s safe,” the elder Lochte said. “It was an unfortunate experience for him and the other three. I don’t know what all the controversy is. They were basically taken out of the taxi and robbed. The main thing is he’s very lucky that he’s safe and that all they got was his cash and wallet.”
The elder Lochte said his son’s Olympic credential and cellphone weren’t taken during the incident early Sunday morning. He said he was sure Ryan had his passport or he would not have been allowed to board a plane.
Associated Press reporters waiting outside Lochte’s home in North Carolina did not see the 12-time medallist .
Lochte’s attorney, Jeff Ostrow, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
A police official with knowledge of the investigation told the AP that police cannot find their taxi driver or witnesses from the robbery. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
The group did not call police, authorities said, and officers began investigating once they saw media reports in which Lochte’s mother spoke about the robbery. Police interviewed Lochte and one other swimmer, who said they had been intoxicated and could not remember what type and colour of taxi they rode in or where the robbery happened, the police official said. The swimmers also could not say what time the events occurred.
Ostrow has said there is no question the robbery occurred.
“Why would anybody fabricate anything?” Steve Lochte said. “It’s just ridiculous.”
Lochte swam in two events at the Rio Games, winning gold in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay. Bentz, 21, and Conger, 20, also earned gold for swimming in the preliminary heats of the 4×200 relay. Feigen, 26, received gold for swimming in the heats of the 4×100 free relay, which was won by the U.S.
Lochte described the incident to NBC’s “Today” show.
“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 ‚Äî they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so ‚Äî 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 ‚Äî he left my cellphone, he left my credentials.”
Lochte told USA Today that he and his teammates didn’t initially tell the U.S. Olympic officials about the robbery “because we were afraid we’d get in trouble.”