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Brazilian Officials Say U.S. Swimmers Should Face Charges For Fabricating Rio Robbery

U.S. swimmers under investigation over alleged false crime report of Rio robbery
U.S. swimmers under investigation over alleged false crime report of Rio robbery

Brazilian authorities have recommended American swimmers Ryan Lochte and James Feigen face charges of false reporting of a crime, according to reports Thursday from ABC News and Brazilian outlet Globo News.

Lochte and Feigen, along with fellow U.S. Olympic swimmers Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger, initially claimed on Sunday they were robbed at gunpoint by armed men posing as police. The athletes claimed officers confronted them in their taxi while stopped at a gas station in Barra da Tijuca, a western suburb of Rio.

Reports say the athletes have been “indicted” ― but while indictments in the U.S. indicate formal charges have been filed after a grand jury has determined there’s sufficient evidence to proceed, the term is used differently in Brazil. BuzzFeed Brazil notes a Brazilian “indiciamento” is a “preliminary conclusion of the investigation by police,” after which prosecutors decide whether to pursue charges and a judge decides whether to validate the case.

The International Olympic Committee denied the robbery in question happened, and the swimmers’ claim soon unraveled after they gave conflicting accounts of the incident to authorities. Surveillance footage further contradicted the swimmers’ narrative and indicated they may have been drunk and disruptive.

News of the situation gained traction after Lochte, 32, allegedly lied to his mother about the nature of the ordeal and she repeated his account to the press.

Brazilian officials, citing surveillance footage from the gas station, said the Americans had vandalized a restroom and fought with a gas station security guard on the night of the alleged incident.

The gas station owner told the O Globo newspaper he directed the swimmers to the bathroom but that at least one of them urinated on the wall instead.

Reports differ on whether an armed security guard pulled a gun on the swimmers before police arrived, but Reuters reported the athletes paid for the damage on the scene in Brazilian and U.S. currency, leaving the equivalent of about $50.

Lochte on Sunday described the incident to NBC’s Bill Bush Sunday as such:

“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.”

But on Wednesday, the 12-time Olympic medalist told Matt Lauer the gun was just pointed in his direction. Lochte also revised the lead-up to the scene, saying the swimmers had stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom when the incident occurred, after first claiming the armed men pulled them over.

Bentz and Conger were pulled off their return flight home on Wednesday to be questioned by police. A Brazilian judge ordered police on Wednesday to seize Lochte and Feigen’s passports so they could be questioned, but Lochte had flown back to the U.S. Monday on a commercial flight.

In a statement released Thursday night, the U.S Olympic Committee said Bentz and Conger had given statements to local officials and recently departed Rio. Feigen also gave a revised statement in hopes of reclaiming his passport, which was seized.

Early Friday morning, Feigen agreed to make an $11,000 donation to a Brazilian charity in exchange for his freedom, his lawyer in Rio, Breno Melaragno Costa, announced. According to ABC News, once Feigen makes the donation to the Reaction Institute, his passport will be returned and he will be free to leave the country.

The USOC said its understanding of the incident was the account given by Brazilian police: an act of vandalism at a gas station in Rio, an argument with security and the monetary payment.

“The behavior of these athletes is not acceptable, nor does it represent the values of Team USA or the conduct of the vast majority of its members,” the statement from the organization said, promising to review the incident and any possible consequences for the swimmers.

“On behalf of the United States Olympic Committee, we apologize to our hosts in Rio and the people of Brazil for this distracting ordeal in the midst of what should rightly be a celebration of excellence,” it concluded.

The false account from the Americans has hit a nerve with many Rio residents, who chafed at the way the foreigners fed the characterization of the city as a dangerous, crime-ridden place.

Despite the mounting evidence against the swimmers’ original claims, Lochte’s lawyer on Thursday still insisted that a robbery occurred.

Chief of Civil Police Fernando Veloso said in Thursday press conference that potential charges of false communication of a crime and damaging private assets were unlikely to stick since the swimmers paid for the damage and the gas station owner was not pressing charges, CNN reports.

This story has been updated with a statement from the U.S. Olympic Committee and news about Feigen’s deal with authorities.

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