Police: U.S. swimmers lied about robbery to hide gas station vandalism

American Olympic swimmers Gunnar Bentz, left, and Jack Conger, center, after they were taken off their flight from Brazil to the U.S. on Wednesday.
American Olympic swimmers Gunnar Bentz, left, and Jack Conger, center, after they were taken off their flight from Brazil to the U.S. on Wednesday. AP

New video released Thursday shows four U.S. swimmers fleeing a Brazilian gasoline station after allegedly vandalizing it, undermining their earlier story of being robbed at gunpoint by police.

Brazil’s Rede Globo TV station broke into morning Olympic coverage to show tape of multi-medalist Ryan Lochte and three other Americans staggering out of a gas station around 6:07 a.m. Sunday.

Gas station attendants can be seen running toward a bathroom, apparently after hearing the crash of a door kicked down. The swimmers, noticeably impaired, try to get into the wrong cab before walking across the pumps to their proper cab that had stopped so they could use the facilities.

In the tape, the cab driver appears to refuse to drive away, and after several minutes the swimmers get out and walk away.

At that point Rede Globo shows another security surveillance tape that shows someone apparently pointing a weapon at the swimmers and three slowly sit down with their arms raised. Several minutes go by and one swimmer stands up, while the other swimmers appear to signal that he’s not trying to flee.

In a later report, Rede Globo aired transcripts from the testimony of two security guards who were working at the gas station in Barra da Tijuca.. The guards described the swimmers as drunk and aggressive, offering a $20 bill for trashing the bathroom. They eventually left that bill and the equivalent of about $32 in Brazilian currency.

A Brazilian police division that handles crimes against and by tourists has scheduled a news conference to provide more details. Lochte is now back in the United States, but his three swimming colleagues, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, and James Feigen, remain in Brazil.

Bentz and Conger were pulled from their homebound flights yesterday. Feigen was detained before he boarded.

“The three U.S. Olympic swimmers . . . are cooperating with authorities and in the process of scheduling a time and place today to provide further statements to the Brazilian authorities,” Patrick Sandusky, the chief spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee.”All are represented by counsel and being appropriately supported by the USOC and the U.S. Consulate in Rio.”

Their accusation of being victims of an armed robbery in Rio, a city that had already seen a number of high-profile muggings and hold-ups, made news the world over. It undid much of the marketing efforts Brazil had made for the famed city.

Mario Andrada, the spokesman for the Rio 2016 games, told reporters Thursday that being caught in a lie was “sufficient” punishment for the American athletes.

But that decision belongs to police here, who have investigated the swimmers for making false claims to police, a crime that carries up to three years in jail.

Judge Keyla Blanc De Cnop issued a surprise order Wednesday to search for and seize Lochte and Feitgen’s passports in order to prevent them from leaving Brazil. She publicly questioned their allegations.

For average Brazilians, the swimmers’ tale of armed robbery seemed strange. Their American cell phones, prized in the black market here, were inexplicably not taken. In fact, news report told of German and Bulgarian athletes having iPhones and iPads stolen from their rooms in the Olympic village.

From the moment news first broke about the apparent robbery, the story began evolving into one that raised more questions. Lochte first denied that he’d been robbed, and the International Olympic Committee denied it had happened.

Then he admitted it happened and said he had lied because he was afraid the group of swimmers would get in trouble.

Ileana Lochte, his protective Cuban-American mother, was at times contradicting her son, saying that he was indeed robbed. Her story changed, as did what the U.S. Olympic Committee was saying.

Lochte even described in gripping detail to NBC how he’d resisted the demand to lie down on the ground and got a pistol barrel pressed against his forehead.

The story unraveled in pieces. The British newspaper Daily Mail on Wednesday published apparent security surveillance screen shots of Lochte and fellow swimmers, in which they appear to have their wallets and cell phones in hand. They did not look like shaken victims of an armed robbery and joked among themselves.

Kevin G. Hall: 202-383-6038, @KevinGHall